AppCraver recently spoke with Matt Hall and John Watkinson of Larva Labs and psychologist Fred Muench, the team behind Breathpacer. They answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
Larva Labs: A few months ago, although we’ve been developing mobile software for a few years now on other platforms.
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
Larva Labs: We used to work at Columbia University in health sciences programming and decided to partner with a psychologist for health apps named Fred Muench, who works in the health technology and behavior change field. There are so many ways in which the mobile phone can improve health and the delivery of health care services. Breathpacer is our first health related application because simply slowing and focusing on your breath can have powerful effects on the mind and body.
If therapeutic breathing were a drug, it would be the biggest blockbuster of all time because it has been showed to be an effective intervention for numerous disorders like hypertension, insomnia, depression, and IBS just to name a few. But many people don’t know how to breathe slowly properly or get distracted during breathing exercises. We also wanted to use the empirical research to guide the development of the application. Breathing at or slightly below six breaths per minute causes balance in the autonomic nervous system. But everyone has a different breathing rate that creates this balance (called the resonant frequency). While only biofeedback can find your optimal rate, we can make a great estimation based on height because there is research to show that blood volume circulated in the cardiovascular system is dependent on height. Therefore, taller people have lower optimal breathing rates. The program takes this into account and automatically assigns people a therapeutic breathing rate. We also wanted people to have the option to choose their own breathing rates because many yoga and meditation practitioners use different styles of breathing. We also have a few other features we will be adding soon that should increase the efficacy of the program.
3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?
Larva Labs: We wanted to make it accessible to people who wouldn’t normally buy a guided breathing app, so we put it somewhere we thought people wouldn’t be scared off and would try it. People’s reactions have been completely varied. People who know the cost of breathing CD’s and devices think we are crazy for charging so little for the app especially because of the individualized options whereas people who are not interested in therapeutic breathing say to themselves, why would I spend three dollars on something that shows me how to breathe? I can breathe on my own.
4. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Is there anything missing?
Larva Labs: Good and getting better. Each release fixes a minor irritation, but really it’s more like programming for a computer than a phone, which makes things super easy. Our first app had to fit in 64k including all code and data. Now it’s basically unlimited, it’s crazy.
5. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?
Larva Labs: Privately owned.
6. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
Larva Labs: Galcon got some serious play since John (one of the Larva Labs founders) wrote a java applet version of that game way back in ‘98, so we’re longtime fans. Also Things is an awesome to do list/organizer, especially with the syncing to the desktop client.
7. What kind of features should Apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
Larva Labs: Memory management, we’re Java programmers so we can’t believe the stuff these C people put up with.
8. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
Larva Labs: Great. It’s remarkably fast to go from prototype to selling the app. The graphics toolkit is top notch, so it’s easy to implement really detailed designs, that’s why there are so many great looking apps for the iPhone probably.
9. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
Larva Labs: Working on a few things, but probably not releasing anything soon. You want to create a program that offers the user something new while being user friendly. It always takes longer than you think, especially in the planning phases.