Mariner Software has been developing spreadsheet apps for the Mac for nearly 20 years. Recently, the company launched Mariner Calc, its first iPhone app. We talked with Michael Wray, president, and William Parr, founder and CTO to gauge their early impressions about doing business in the App Store.
1. You’ve just launched Mariner Calc with Excel functionality. Why now and why this particular app?
MW: Frankly, we started developing the app more than a year ago. The Excel support
portion of the project took five months alone. There was definitely some eagerness to get [Excel support] out the door quicker, but we would have been just like the other spreadsheets in the App Store and that just wasn't an option.
2.Mariner Calc is not the first Excel app to hit the App Store. What makes yours different than Quickoffice's MobileFiles Pro, which is priced the same, yet has quite a few additional features for file transfer?
WP: What users really want is desktop functionality, which Apple could easily supply but chooses not to — for some unknown reason. For example, on iPhone 2.0 mail attachments were stored within standard mBox folders. and we had code working to scan and retrieve attachments. With 2.1 and beyond, data has been moved into SQL databases, which means no access allowed. We have tested code to mail from the app, setting up a separate mail settings etc. was outside the realm of a spreadsheet. Half-baked solutions upset users, mailing from the app sounds good but it is a hack and the real story here is Apple.
3. If you could be something other than a developer, what would it be?
MW: Hmm, good question. How about, king of the world?
WP: That's easy. Retired, living on a boat in the Caribbean.
4. Do you anticipate that iPhone apps will need to be more sophisticated over the next year as buyers become even more selective?
MW: I hope so. The amount of potential the iPhone has is enormous, not only as a consumer device, but also as a legitimate tool for the corporate and enterprise markets. The concern, however, is the more fart apps we see on the iPhone, the less credibility the iPhone is going to have as a solution for this type of customer, and thus, fewer and fewer apps developed at the level of complexity as you see with Mariner Calc.
5. Buyers have very high expectations, perhaps overly so, for apps that cost a mere $4.99. Yours is $9.99, What was your pricing rationale or strategy?
MW: This is a question that actually got debated, internally, for ten months! The theory behind our price point is a combination of market factors, competition, return on investment, and gut feel. We don't hear a lot of price resistance at the ten-dollar price point because I'd like to believe our customers can appreciate the technical complexity Mariner Calc has and the problems it solves.
6. What’s the development cycle for one of your apps? Do you envision dev cycles to lengthen, driven by the increasing need to dev shinier apps?
WP: Conception until the first day Mariner Calc hit the App Store [was] 12.5 months. Version 1.0 to Version 1.1--about 12.5 days! I suspect, as we move forward, development cycles will be determined by how stable the product is and how many features can be added. Unfortunately, with a spreadsheet, there's only so much sexiness you can add to it.
7. How does your work affect the price point for your paid apps? In other words, what do you contribute to an app that you believe gives it value?
WP: Not sure work does affect the price point. App pricing on the iPhone seems to be driven by low-end and free apps. In our case, the technology can be reused in other projects on the desktop and possibly other mobile devices. It's hard to put a number on shared code.
8. Do reviewers like me bother you? How about people in the App Store? I see some people give an app one star, thinking that that’s a good thing. “Awesome app! Worth one star!”
MW: Absolutely not. We have created great relationships with editors and reviewers over the years. The one-star reviewers in the App Store can be a little frustrating if the issues that they are experiencing are not legitimate issues. If they are legitimate issues, they have every right to throw the app under the bus--but just do it in a tactful way.
9. What’s the biggest advantage of the iPhone other than mobility?
MW: Apple. Tell me another company that has the vision to step into a completely foreign space--the cell phone market--and change the way people look at mobile devices. I don't see them letting up any time soon.
10. What apps are on your iPhone right now?
MW: Well, my ten-year-old downloads free games to play on mine. I personally use Google Earth, some of the GPS apps, AIM, and a few other third-party apps.
11. Apple just announced 100 new features for OS 3.0 and some 1,000 for the OS 3.0 SDK. Got any plans to use features such as peer-to-peer, push notification and so on?
WP: Peer-to-peer, copy and paste, undo. We already have these features coded. We will support the system clipboard.
12. What improvements, if any, would you like to see in the App Store. Devs have been vocal about how difficult it is to get noticed. What's your take?
MW: I can appreciate how much bandwidth it must be taking Apple so, in that sense, I'll give them a little slack on the delays it takes from submitting an app to them until posting it. Their search functionality is a bit perplexing.
WP: I would like to see faster turnaround when posting updates, a critical bug fix shouldn't take seven days to get to the customer.