AppCraver recently spoke with Robert Jen, the developer behind THETA (Texas Hold 'Em Turbo Action). He answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
Robert Jen: I started by developing iPhone-specific web apps last summer, releasing my first web app, Trivia Why’s Daily Quiz, on October 15, 2007. I started developing my first native app as soon as the beta of the iPhone SDK was available in March, although by then I had spent a couple of months prototyping parts of it with a Mac OS X app.
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
Robert Jen: I love games, and I love to play Texas Hold ‘Em. Before the iPhone, I developed apps for the Palm Pilot for nearly a decade, and in that time, nobody ever wrote a decent Hold ‘Em game for it (the game I played the most, I won 70% of the 30-player tournaments I played, which is absurd). By the time my poker skills had improved enough to consider writing one myself, I had moved on to the iPhone. My main goal was to create a poker app that would help players improve their games because I myself want to keep improving. In the end, my Hold ‘Em skills improved both from spending so much time playing with, I mean testing, THETA Poker, and from writing the tremendous amounts of logic inside the game.
3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?
Robert Jen: Apple set the bar with their Texas Hold ‘Em app at $4.99. I originally intended to price my app at $9.99 or even $14.99, but changed it as soon as Apple set their price.
4. Roughly how many apps have you sold?
Robert Jen: THETA Poker just hit the App Store yesterday, so no data is available yet.
5. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? is there anything missing?
Robert Jen: It’s not perfect, but it’s still the best development environment I’ve ever used. There was plenty missing when I first started developing (e.g., I didn’t use Interface Builder because it wasn’t ready when I needed it), but it’s pretty solid now.
6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?
Robert Jen: Private.
7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
Robert Jen: Instapaper is my new favorite app because I’m an iPod touch user. It’s great to be able to store any web site for future offline reading.
8. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
Robert Jen: As a user, I would very much like cut-and-paste. Although THETA Poker has no need for it, I could see wanting it for future projects. A better app Launcher would be high on my list as well because I have hit the 9-screen limit. The current SDK doesn’t let developers write a Launcher replacement, so Apple either needs to step up or add functionality to the SDK.
9. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
Robert Jen: This first app was a real challenge because the SDK was changing every month or so during development. Now that things have settled down, the cycle is pretty much like on any other platform. Ten years ago, I used to connect my Palm Pilot Professional to my Mac 6500 with a serial cable to debug; now I connect my iPod touch to my MacPro with a USB cable. It’s a little harder to beta test because of the DRM, but I am forever indebted to my excellent beta testers as always.
10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
Robert Jen: THETA Poker is currently taking up all of my time, and I intend to keep improving it for the foreseeable future. The Advanced skill level of THETA Poker can probably beat 90% of the people right now, but I’d like to move that up to 95%, 99%, and higher because the best way to get better at any game is to play against opponents who are better than you. On the other end of the spectrum, I plan to add a tutoring option for beginners to shorten their learning curve (the second ‘T’ in THETA originally stood for “Tutor”, but now the full name is Texas Hold ‘Em Turbo Action).