Interview with John Ellis of iToony and Tag Show

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interview with iPhone App developer John Ellis of iToony, Tag Show

AppCraver recently caught up with John Ellis the developer behind iToony and Tag Show. He answered 10 questions about the process of creating an iPhone app.

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

I started shortly after the SDK was released. I never ventured into jailbreak, though I seriously considered it for a while. I originally got started completely as a hobby. I wasn't trying to write anything to sell; I only wanted to create a remote for my music server (a duck-taped together mix of a Mac mini hooked to a stereo, a tomcat Linux server, and netjuke). I previously had a web-based solution with a dell axim, but as soon as I saw the iPod Touch, I knew I could do better. I was considering selling it until I learned that apple was releasing one too.

2. What was the inspiration behind your app?

My first app that I sold was iToony. My wife came up with the idea. She wanted to take pictures and have some fun with them, then share them with parents, friends, etc. I came up with the name. The Tag Show was my idea when using the iPhone photo app. I found that I often didn't have enough pictures on the iPhone to make the slide show interesting and thought it would be great to just randomly pull in public image feeds.

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

We originally priced iToony at $4.99. This was before the store opened, so it was just a wild guess. We wanted to stay in that "impulse buy" range. After looking at the store and seeing what moved and what didn't, and after reading several reviews on iToony, we decided to lower the price to $2.99. We think for what it does, $2.99 is a good price. We may raise that after adding more features in the next release. For The Tag Show, I debated $.99 vs. Offering for free. I was really torn. I decided on offering it for free and I’m glad I did because I got a much larger response to it than I would have at $.99. I will now be coming out with a $.99 version called "My Tag Show" which will incorporate some of the feedback I got on from the free version. I think in the app store, having a free and a pay version is a great model.

4. Roughly how many apps did you sell in the first month of operation?

I don't think I’m allowed to say for iToony. The Tag Show had over 10,000 downloads in the first week and is still getting about 800 to 1000 downloads daily.

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

I'm a java programmer, so it was a bit tricky to re-learn memory management. Overall, though, I’m happy with the tools.

6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?

Privately owned. I should say that I released The Tag Show on my own, but for iToony, I am working with some friends who are handling support and distribution. Their company is called Standard Widget Corporation. We are working on other apps that should be coming out soon.

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

I love twinkle. I have to say that I use that more than any other app. I use MLB at Bat, but I have to say that I would have liked it to be much more like their web-based gameday app. It would also have been very cool if they could have tied it into their MLB TV service for live streaming games. I would have signed up for MLB TV if they had.

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

I would love to see more integration with other apps. Maybe a shared "sandbox" that I can use to write info that other apps can consume. I really like most of the photo apps (I bought them all as soon as the store opened to do a little competitive analysis) it would be great to start a photo in one and pass it on to another, etc. Right now, to do that, users have to save the image to photos, and then re-find the image in the next app. Alternately, the app would have to upload the image to some image sharing area and pass the URL to the next app. It would be great if we could write our apps to generally handle images and then register our app as an image handler. Then any image app could have an "export to..." button. This would mean that each image app could specialize and the users would get the best of all of them.

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

For me, there was an original learning curve. I'd guess that developers that were doing native Mac apps had a much easier time of it. At this point, however, apps are pretty easy to create. I guess if I get into some 3d or complicated animation, I’ll be back to the learning curve again. Developing during the beta period was funny. I'd get things working and bang! The next beta release would blow me up, but that is certainly to be expected.

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

A couple. As I mentioned, I’m going to be releasing My Tag Show, the $.99 version of The Tag Show very soon. I was just waiting on a flickr key, which I got today, so it should be out in the next week or so. The others are in too early of a stage to talk about right now.

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