Interview with David Perry of Arf Software

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Ottawa Canada is home to museums, official buildings, loggers and Arf Software. Arf Software is headed up by David Perry. By day, Perry is the director of engineering for an energy monitoring company. By night he toils away at his Mac moonlighting as a developer.

He began his foray into the world of all things Apple iPhone last summer after a sudden trip to the mall. Before he knew it he’d bought a Mac and quickly began to teach himself a programming language. Perry has more than 20 years in hardware, firmware and technology management. So it’s no surprise that he could carve his way into the iPhone app segment.

Perry admittedly develops from home often in his pajamas, only interrupted by occasional nudges from his cats and a warm meal from his wife. We recently sat down with Perry to talk about developing his first app a game called BallsEye and his latest release an app called “Tree" a Christmas tree novelty app.

What made you go out and buy an iPhone last July?
DP: I specifically had developing for iPhone in mind. I had some previous experience with Windows Mobile devices, and I kept losing the stylus! A device designed from the ground up to use fingers-only seemed like a great idea.

What was the catalyst for making you learn objective C?
DP: For me Objective-C was just the means to the end of being able to program the Mac and iPhone. I didn't have any strong feelings about it one way or the other, but now I'm seeing it has some interesting properties.

Where did you get the idea for BallsEye?
DP: I saw Labyrinth and thought; wouldn't it be more interesting if the balls collided with each other, instead of just stationary objects? Then I remembered the kid’s games. Of course, it was natural to take things a step further, and make the targets move, fade from view etc.

Why did you offer the game for free initially?
DP: Frankly, that was a mistake. The idea was to stimulate interest in the game by getting it in the hands of a few people. But, 10,000 people downloaded it in 2 days, which was a bit more than I had intended!

Are people continuing to steadily buy the app?
DP: Sales continue to trickle in, but as most app store developers have found, visibility is a major challenge.

What do you think users like most about this app?
DP: This is a love it or hate it app. If you don't mind spending a few minutes to get the hang of it, it's a satisfying challenge that gets progressively harder. Since it tracks your best times, I think it has replay value. Some people just find it frustrating. It's a very personal thing.

Since your first experience developing BallsEye, what would you do differently?
DP: I will never offer an app for free unless it's just a promo. There's the issue of perceived value. It takes a lot of effort to bring a seeming simple app all the way through the process.

What advice do you have for new developers?
DP: Have fun doing it. If you aren't having fun, do something else, because the business model is shaky.

Your second app is Tree. Who came up with the idea?
DP: My wife came up with it. It's really a demo for BallsEye, and I though it would be fun to put out something seasonal for Christmas.

Is it performing as well as you would expect?
DP: Not bad, the download numbers are pretty steady. It seems to be pretty popular, although it has the same love/hate characteristic as BallsEye.

How are you dealing with competition from other entertainment apps that are free?
DP: I don't think about that much. BallsEye is just the first outing. I will probably concentrate on non-game categories where it seems there are fewer free offerings.

What makes Arf Software a standout from other iPhone developers?
DP:
There are a lot of smart people out there and I have no reason to assume I am smarter than most of them. I can only say I'm keeping an eye out for original ideas, that are useful or fun, that actually make good use of the iPhone, and perhaps those that aren't so easy to code.

How many other apps do you have in development?
DP: 2.

What's your goal in the end?
DP: From a business perspective, I'd be happy to see it cash flow positive. But more importantly for now, I want to explore the possibilities. I see the iPhone as a classic disruptive technology. It makes things possible that were impossible or impractical before.

Are you all strictly a game app developer?
DP:
Absolutely not. On the contrary, writing a game was really an exercise for me to get acquainted with the SDK. I'd really like to focus on productivity and music applications in the future.

How has it been to work with Apple?
DP: They are dealing with a lot of developers, and you have to realize that. You end up figuring a lot of things out for yourself.

Do you think Apple has provided you with everything you need in the SDK?
DP: I hope they can eventually figure out a way to safely give 3rd party apps some background CPU cycles. There is a whole category of apps that are precluded because of that restriction. Also I think Interface Builder is pretty primitive at this stage. The audio portion of the SDK is a little abstruse, but that could just be me.

What trends do you see with popular apps?
DP:
It's pretty chaotic right now. I think there are a few broad categories. "Show-Off" apps that you buy to show your phone to your friends will, I think, get old eventually. I think bigger budget games and advertising supported apps have a future.

What do you think Apple could provide to App developers to make things smoother for them?
DP: They've done a pretty good job as it is. Removing the NDA was good. They should continue to improve the SDK. Unlike some, I've found the review process to be tolerable.

What do you think of the forthcoming opportunity for app developers with Android and RIM?
DP: I'll be looking at it, although they are late to the party in my opinion. I don't think you will see the explosion of interest that the iPhone had.

Do you think developers are ignoring these new platforms?
DP:
No, I think they are watching closely.

What's the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
DP: I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that yet, since there was a lot of learning going on for me the first time though. Having said that, it didn't seem any harder than other environments I have learned (for example, c# and .NET).

Have you thought about developing this technology for Blackberry or Gphone?
DP: I won't be bringing BallsEye to those platforms, but other applications are possible.

What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
DP:
I tend to like apps that bring on-line content up easier than a browser. Like the Google mobile app, Wikipanion, and ICANHASCHEEZBURGER :-)

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