AppCraver spoke via email with Terry Longrie (TL) and Mike Stran (MS) of Very Magnetic Clock Company, the developers of Timepieces. They answered our questions about developing apps for iPhone and iPod touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
TL - Technically since February ‘08 when the SDK was released but in a more general sense it goes back to my days in college when I worked on a NeXT project for a software engineering class. One of the things I find so amazing about the iPhone is that the skills I learned way back in ‘92 or so are directly transferable to writing iPhone apps. XCode, Interface Builder, Objective C, all that stuff all existed way back then in a very similar form to what one uses now.
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
TL - When the SDK was released I was brainstorming application ideas and I remembered this clock screensaver application that Mike had done. At the same time I had this non-realistic clock application that I would run on my old iPaq while it sat in the charger. Those two things came together and what I realized was that what I really wanted was Mike’s super-realistic clocks on my iPhone.
MS - It’s actually based identically on an application that I developed in Java about 3 years ago and that can be found at the website: http://verymagneticclock.com. The genesis of the application is my long standing fascination with both timepieces/timekeeping and software development. I had wanted the original application to be usable on small form factor devices like cell phones. However Java is just now really getting into that space. I needed a very rich toolkit, the kind that a full operating system with sufficient memory offers and it wasn’t until the iPhone came along that I felt this was practical. Terry approached me last summer with the idea of our porting my Java application and he did a fantastic job with it.
3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?
MS - We looked at the other applications that were roughly comparable and felt that we had a significantly better product than everything we were seeing. Most of the applications that display some sort of timepiece offered significantly less in terms of choice and were priced at $.99. We felt that we had a lot more to offer people (44 timepieces across 4 categories) and didn’t want to be at the same price point. Beyond that we also didn’t want it to become price prohibitive either; we’d rather make it available to larger number of people. Most of the applications for the iPhone are modestly priced anyway so we settled on $1.99.
4. Roughly how many units have you sold?
MS - Well it’s only been out 3 days, but so far so good, it’s at about 100.
5. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Is there anything missing?
TL - Apple does a great job with the SDK. Simply fantastic that there is absolutely no cost to get started with the tools and the iPhone simulator.
6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?
MS - Both companies which collaborated on this application are privately owned.
7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
TL - MileBug filled an exact need I had keeping track of vehicle mileage for tax purposes. Others were too fancy or had complicating features that I didn’t need. Just as often illustrated by Apple, simple is better. Wikiamo is another very handy app that just makes looking up trivia so much easier and faster.
8. What kind of features should Apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
TL - I’d love to see the battery level exposed in the API. In Timepieces some of the antique clocks have these winding strength indicators that, originally, told the user when it needed to be wound. I really wanted to hook that up to the phone’s battery charge level but found that it wasn’t possible. So, now they count down at a rate that varies based on the particular clock and how long the app has been running. Unfortunately not nearly as interesting or as useful.
9. What¹s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
TL - Pretty much the usual code → compile → test → repeat sort of process. Certainly not as fast as working in an interpreted language but, with today’s Macs the compile step doesn’t take very long so one doesn’t notice it too much. Main different thing with the iPhone is dealing with all the “fiddly bits” involving certificates to identify yourself, your company, signing the app and such.
10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
TL - Not right this very moment but certainly have some ideas that will be started in the new year.
MS - We might do a follow on to this one, since it's based on the same overall API as the original java application which will allow us to easily add additional clocks. We may do a few versions such as our favorite pocket watches, military timepieces, wristwatches, etc. I have a lot of others stored up that can be added in the future.