Interview with Mark Simpson of Touch Physics

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AppCraver recently spoke via email with Mark Simpson, the creator of Touch Physics. He answered our questions about developing apps for the iPhone and iPod touch.

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

Mark: Back in March 08 when the iPhone SDK came out. I’ve been developing Mac software for about 3 years.

2. What was the inspiration behind your app?

Mark: I’ve seen physics based drawing games on other platforms and saw a number of issues with them that could be improved upon with implementation on the iPhone. The main one being that drawing is a tactile process and everybody can use a finger to draw. Anytime you put a mouse or other tool between a person and the environment they’re interacting with, you remove a lot of fun from the process.

Also, the physics had to be real, and we wanted to give the user the feel that they were really drawing in crayon. We wanted the shapes to “pop” into life when they were created. The iPhone was a natural fit.

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

Mark: We have underpriced Touch Physics at $0.99 initially, to get placement on the App Store. App Store rankings are based on sales, so it is skewed to promoting the developers who have already sold a lot of units, not new developers. To get those sales they need to get listed, a chicken and egg situation.

So if you began selling at the price that it was worth, you would sell less units and not be listed. Unfortunately I’ve seen many good apps from fellow developers disappear to virtually no sales a few days after launch because they launched at a price that people considered too high to risk on someone new.

This is why many apps are being deliberately undervalued when they are launched at $0.99 or even free. It is websites like AppCraver that give the new apps and the indie developer a chance at being found by the public. You can pick up some good deals by browsing these websites.

4. Roughly how many units have you sold?

Mark: 1623 users in our first 5 days. We’ve had majority 5 star ratings throughout the world, and have made it into the top 50 in a number of countries. Aggregated, our users have racked up 4 months and 3 days of playing time already on Touch Physics in 85 countries so far. Our users are saying, “Give us more of the same”, and we are doing that. The positive feedback we’ve received from our customers has made it worth all the long nights and weekends.

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

Mark: Generally great and very similar to development on a Mac. I like that Apple have now removed the Non Disclosure Agreement; it allows developers to help each other out via the forums and results in better apps.

6. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?

Mark: Privately owned.

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

Mark: I particularly like the new Google Mobile App, Shazam is amazing, Nanosaur 2, Mouse About, Scoops and X-Plane. i.e. Apps which have high production values and a good user interface. It’s important to remember that the platform is small, it’s a visually attractive device and the usage tends to be with frequent interruptions. Apps should avoid cluttering the user with things they don’t need and remember things the user shouldn’t need to. This is something we aspire to in our own development and is something we think these games have achieved.

I see many apps out there where developers haven’t taken the time to think about how the user will use their app, and this is reflected in their reviews. Users are our customers. We read all reviews and respond to any emails sent; if they’ve taken the time to contact us then it’s only courteous to listen and respond.

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

Mark: I would like to see the ability to be able to write apps that run in the background on the iphone. I have one app coming that needs push notifications.

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

Mark: Touch Physics, took about 3 months to develop in the evenings and weekends. For about the last month we had Beta testers using the game and providing feedback. We then incorporated this feedback into the product and tested again. Then finally we spent 3 weeks doing the “spit and polish” as we call it. Submitted to Apple, waited, and 3 days later we were approved for sale in the App Store. So far we haven’t had any bug reports from anyone.

This is relatively rapid and painless compared to other platforms. As a developer, you get a lot of things for free like animation. For example, the menu which slides in at the beginning of Touch Physics, took about 30 mins to code.  On any other platform, probably about 1 day of work to get a similar result. Because you spend less time coding, you can concentrate more on production values, user experience, functionality and testing. And the platform, well it’s just COOL !

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

Mark: There is one app nearing release that we are actively working on that I can’t say too much about at the moment. We delayed it to get Touch Physics out first and our Beta testers have been nagging us to finish it :-)

Then we have other novel app ideas at the top of the list. Some of these are also physics based.

I am working as we speak on a level creator for Touch Physics and the ability for users to share those levels online. We’re hoping to submit the level creator to Apple next week and the online sharing in a future update.

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