Interview with Rusty Ross of Squaresville


squaresville interviewAppCraver recently spoke with Rusty Ross, the developer behind Squaresville. He answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

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

Rusty Ross: Less than a month ago! I taught myself iPhone development basically from scratch, so I started with about a week of intensively reading Apple documentation, as well as a great book by Aaron Hillegass entitled COCOA PROGRAMMING FOR MAC OS X. Actually, Aaron’s book doesn’t mention the iPhone at all, but was still immensely helpful in learning the iPhone development process and Cocoa coding techniques.

After that, I spent just over a week developing Squaresville, my first app. I will say that it was an intensive week with very long days. (And nights!)

Once I had finalized the app and done my testing, I submitted the binary to the App Store and waited another week for an actual approval and release by Apple. Of course, when you finish a project, you want to share it with the world immediately, so it seemed like a long time. Though, from what I hear, with “only” a week long approval period, I was luckier than many developers have been.

2. What was the inspiration behind your app?

Rusty Ross: For my initial venture into iPhone development, I wanted to do something fun and visual. And I also really wanted to take advantage of what most differentiates the iPhone from a desktop system: the touchscreen.

I thought it might be fun to start out by paying tribute to a simple toy or puzzle game from the analog world. One that, ideally, people might remember from childhood or another time in their life and feel a bit of an emotional connection toward. Anyway, maybe that’s asking a bit much, but I certainly have strong memories of playing with a well-worn version of the classic “15 squares” puzzle at my grandparents’ house as a kid. Hence, Squaresville.

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

Rusty Ross: Years of market research.

No, I am kidding. To be honest, it was a bit of guesswork. 99 cents just felt right. Really, I wanted it to be cheap enough so that people would hopefully not have to think twice before giving it a try.

4. Roughly how many units have you sold?

Rusty Ross: Sales have been good, but could always be better! (Although, when isn’t that the case?)

Squaresville was released this week, and in the three days it has been for sale, what I am most excited about (and most proud of so far) is that copies have already been sold in the US, UK, Russia, China, Mexico, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and Spain. It’s really neat to have that kind of global reach from one marketplace. (I am glad now that I took the time to localize my app in 16 languages!)

One thing that has been a little tough regarding the initial launch of Squaresville is that it seems Apple hasn’t updated the “New” sections of the App Store in at least a week. If you look at the “New” apps in the Games category right now (sorted by date), all but one were released prior to the beginning of this month! I don’t know if this is a policy change or an oversight on Apple’s part, but what it means for an independent developer like myself is that it is not likely that an App Store user will simply stumble across my app while browsing aimlessly. Hopefully, Apple will either fix this situation or implement a better way of giving a little extra attention to very newly released apps, if even for just a short time.

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

Rusty Ross: XCode is fantastic. Instruments is fantastic. Cocoa is fantastic. The developer environment for iPhone is a pleasure to learn and a pleasure to use. (Except for memory management, but everyone needs an occasional bitter pill, right?)

As someone who just learned most of this stuff, I feel a little spoiled in that I never had to endure the “bad old days” of sub-par development tools on other platforms.

Is there room for improvement? Of course. There are some rough edges in the iPhone SDK and clearly some elements that will be nice to have added and others that will be nice to see mature a bit, but all in all, it’s a great place to work and there are already countless great tools to work with.

6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?

Rusty Ross: Um, very privately owned. To tell the truth, it’s just me. Actually, in my “real” life, I am a professional actor. But not one who waits tables or tends bar when not onstage or in front of the camera. Instead, I do some consulting. And make Squaresville.

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

Rusty Ross: In general, I like simplicity, elegance, and consistency with the iPhone UI and aesthetic. It’s interesting to me how many developers currently represented on the App Store either don’t seem to place much value on those elements or don’t understand those elements. So when an developer “gets” those elements (and don’t get me wrong, I think plenty do), their app is all the more thrilling to look at and to use.

Specifically, I am currently a fan of iFlix, a Netflix manager with an elegant touch. And iTrans NYC, a New York City subway navigator with a very smartly done interface.

Oh, and let’s face it: Shazam is so incredibly cool. Every time it identifies a song in a loud restaurant, I am amazed all over again.

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

Rusty Ross: I am looking forward to the previously announced (but apparently delayed) support for push notifications for third party developers. I think that could facilitate some really nice design ideas.

And I think over time, it will be nice to see battery technology evolve. I actually think the current iPhone battery life is pretty excellent considering its size, and the demands that are constantly being placed on the iPhoneCPU. But still, many of the limitations imposed on developers right now and much of the thinking about app design and how third party apps fit into the iPhone universe seems to be based on concerns about limited battery life.

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

Rusty Ross: Like I mentioned earlier, I produced Squaresville in just over one (intensive) week. Now, Squaresville is pretty limited in scope, although it’s by no means just a one screen “info display” app either. So, I guess my point is that the iPhone SDK (and Cocoa in general) allows for pretty rapid development in a comparative sense.

Personally, what I really enjoyed about developing Squaresville is that its design needs required that I learn a pretty wide range of iPhone SDK topics: Core Animation, Quartz, touchscreen event handling, data archiving, and audio, to name a few. (And I must admit that I also had a pretty good time doing some of the photography for images included in the game, as well as auditioning about two dozen “popping” sounds for just the right one to fit an animation I had built.)

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

Rusty Ross: I have a bunch of ideas, all currently in various stages in the womb. Right now, I am trying to focus in one which one I am most excited about diving into next (and most capable of coding next), and plan to move full steam ahead from there. I’ll keep you posted!

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  • TheRealGomez

    So I wonder how many units were actually sold.....especially since users purchased it from other countries.