Interview with Gareth Lancaster about Hiqup


interview with iphone developer Gareth Lancaster about Hiqup for iPod TouchAppCraver caught up recently with Gareth Lancaster developer of Hiqup for the iPhone and iPod Touch..

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

Gareth Lancaster: I started developing Hiqup at the end of June, but I'd downloaded the SDK a little while before. I hadn't got into it to a great extent before the 3G was released because, being in the UK, I couldn't actually apply until a couple of weeks before that release as they had restricted it to US developers. This was quite frustrating and, as it wasn't clear what was going to eventually end up happening, I didn't invest as much time as I could have until I was actually accepted (which was the day the 3G was released.)

2. What was the inspiration behind your app?

Gareth Lancaster: It's a game I've had going around my head for a few years now. I'd built prototypes, or at least started some, on a variety of different platforms, but hadn't really found a platform that suited me and that I felt interested in enough to go ahead and develop it fully. The iPhone SDK really got me interested and seemed like an ideal platform to invest the time in.

3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?

Gareth Lancaster: Difficult question really. I've been watching app prices since the launch of the app store and, to be honest, the prices are settling around a kind of "impulse buy" level, that is cheap enough for it really not to be a difficult purchase decision. I felt right from the start that the iPhone is ideally suited to a price that relies upon volume and hence I priced at $1.99. There's a downside to this as, for a lot of people, lower prices present an image of inferiority, that it can't be very good if it's that cheap and I'm seeing a lot that might tarnish the $0.99 cent level in that respect, although I hope that doesn't happen as there is a lot of really good stuff at that price point. Pricing for the iPhone is a learning experience and as it's still in the first flushes, it's going to take a while to settle down.

4. Roughly how many apps did you sell in the first month of operation?

Gareth Lancaster: Well my app has only been in the store a few days, so I couldn't say!

5. How did you  like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Is there anything missing?

Gareth Lancaster: I come from a Windows background and, for the last 5 years of so, have concentrated almost exclusively on PHP, so the learning curve was quite steep. I had an old Mac Mini lying around that I first of all put the SDK on just to see what it was like and what the XCode environment was like to work with. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. Seriously, Apple made sure that they did this the right way when they decided to actually do it, and they already had a very mature development environment in XCode, which has impressed me no end. I've been a developer on one platform or another for nearly 20 years now and the whole experience with the SDK and XCode has been enjoyable. Objective-C is a different beast to languages I've used before, and I had no previous experience of Cocoa at all, but by taking a look at the sample code, reading the very comprehensive documentation (which has got better as time has gone on), and having a play it soon falls into place. Although Objective-C is very verbose, I find it nice to follow, and it makes a lot of sense (well, at least for me and the way my head works!)

As for if there's anything missing yes, there is plenty, but I think Apple have taken a very cautious approach in the first instance to give it a solid footing. I'd like to see them open up some other APIs further, and maybe relax the sandboxing, and it might come in the future I guess. Then again, it might not, you never can tell with Apple. But, working within the constraints you have is part of working on any platform and I'm enjoying it. So much so that I brought a MacBook Pro a month ago to replace my Dell XPS.

6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?

Gareth Lancaster: At present I'm operating as an individual, due to the complications and extra time frame in acceptance that goes with applying as a company. This will be changing in the near future now the first step is out of the way — getting my first app out there.

7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?

Gareth Lancaster: I like Beatmaker a lot. I have a musical background and I've spent a long time longing for something I could lay out ideas with in my pocket whenever I wanted to, just to mess around with. Beatmaker is a fantastic first attempt at this and I'm very impressed. Quite a number of games have impressed me as well, such as Dizzy Bee and Trism. You see some very interesting, left-field ideas as well, such as Aqua Forest and CubicMan. Games you just wouldn't see from a mainstream development company. I'm looking forward to the next 6 months, and am especially eager for Rolando to hit the App Store.

8. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?

Gareth Lancaster: To be honest, I'm not sure. There's nothing in particular that I need that isn't currently available in the SDK, but I'm producing games and don't particularly need to get out of the sandboxed environment or interact with other apps. Those are big things for a lot of developers, as is the promised app notification service, and you do see some of the things that can be achieved on jailbroken iPhones and end up thinking 'that would be so cool if they opened it up officially'.

9. What's the development cycle for iPhone apps like?

I don't think mine was typical! I was learning the language, the environment, and writing for a mobile at the same time as putting it together. It was re-written several times because of this, so I could leverage things I'd learn further along the line. My next game will definitely have a more structured approach to the development cycle — the biggest issue I see though, for independent developers, is getting beta testers on board and the inherent pain that ad-hoc is (actually, that's something that should maybe get looked at again by Apple.)

10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?

Gareth Lancaster: I've started initial planning for a new game but it's early on in the process and the ideas are in flux. I'm hoping to start development at the end of this month, looking for a release late November if at all possible. At the moment all I can say is that it mixes a couple of popular game genres in a way I haven't seen done before, so I'm quite excited about it.

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