Yohan Le Nerriec, Chief Architect at Orb Networks, Inc., has been developing since the early days of the iPhone before the App Store and before the SDK. Here he answers AppCraver's questions about developing iPhone and iPod touch apps.
When did you start developing apps for the iPhone? Did you have previous experience as a developer?
March 2008, on a jailbroken iPhone, before the SDK came out. We found the iPhone platform very nice with a great user experience, and thought it would be really cool to have a native Orb application on this device. When possible thanks to the jailbreaking community, I wrote a quick prototype for an Orb client that everybody in the company loved. We released it later to the jailbroken community, and when the SDK finally came out we decided to make it an app compatible with the AppStore: OrbLive. It was approved by Apple and released in the AppStore in November 2008. I've been developing software for different platforms (Windows, linux, Windows CE, Symbian) in several languages for many years. It was the first time I had to use Objective C and the Apple frameworks though, but found it very intuitive and easy to learn.
What / how many apps have you made so far?
We've made 4 iPhone apps so far.
OrbLive was our first app. It's a client for our main Orb application. It allows browsing, searching, and streaming all your home media content, and live TV from your home computer to the iPhone, whatever network connection is available (WiFi, 3G and even EDGE). We had to be very creative to extend the iPhone SDK and allow live video streaming to the device. This is indeed not possible with the Apple SDK, which allows only playback of pre-encoded videos.
Live Events is our second app. Using the streaming technology we developed for OrbLive, we made it possible to stream any kind of live content (the live penguin cam of the Monterey aquarium is surprisingly very popular
NBA All Star was our first dedicated live streaming of a sport event. It had a huge success and showed there is a real demand to watch live sport events on the iPhone.
The Masters, which had over 3 million sessions of 10 mins average, by over 350k unique users in just a few days. It was rated over 4 stars in the app store and was the number 1 free app in the Sports section of the app store (number 6 all categories).
What type of apps/games/software inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
I love apps that show a great user experience with a smooth and intuitive user interface. We tried to make the OrbLive UI look and behave similar to the native iPod application so users wouldn't have to learn yet another UI. The apps we developed so far intend to fill the gap left by Apple and allow live video streaming.
How do you settle on the price point for your apps?
For OrbLive we had a poll on our user forums, and most users who had tried the beta version replied they thought $10 would be a fair price, which is also what we agreed on internally.
What has been the best thing about designing for the iPhone?
I enjoyed discovering the Apple SDK, it's full of very well thought frameworks that make it easy for developers to build nice looking applications. I especially loved how easy it is to make cool transitions between views. Having been used to developing Windows applications in C++, it made things much faster than I expected! Also, it's really cool to be able to show your friends what you're working on on your everyday phone.
What has been the biggest challenge about designing for the iPhone?
Our biggest challenge has been to port our streaming technology to the iPhone since the SDK doesn't allow for live video streaming. We had to spend time playing with low level assembler optimizations to compile third party libraries and integrate them to obtain acceptable playback performances. Another challenge was to keep the UI simple, as there is no "right click" option on the device. We decided to let the more complex features on the side so that the most common use cases would always be simple and look nice.
Is your company venture backed or privately held?
Venture backed. http://orb.com/en/leadership
Do you have any other apps in the works?
We'd love to build more live sports events applications.
What apps do you have on your iPhone?
OrbLive, Live Events, Skype, Yelp, Shazam, Last Call, Lux Touch, Facebook
What do you like to do when you're not coding for the iPhone?
Designing elegant architectures and coding for Windows, Mac and linux Outside of programming, I love to travel. And when I'm in town I like to hang out with friends around good food and wine, discovering new bars and clubs in San Francisco, and outdoors activities such as hiking, skying, soccer and tennis.