Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Not Easy Having Fun - The Story Behind Rick's iPhone/iTouch App

Hi All -

Dave Wilson here. I'm the dude who co-developed "Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet" iPhone application. Good fun – but also a lot of work.

Actually, the app is more like an e-book - because it offers soooo much how-to info.

What's more, it's like an ever-expanding e-book – because new content will be added monthly. More fun . . . and more work :-)

For those of you who are interested in behind-the-scenes stories (and app development), here's the technical scoop on the app.

But first, check out the intro movie.

Apple started shipping the first iPhone in June 2007. There was, however, a problem for developers (like me): Apple didn't initially provide any way to write "native" apps for the iPhone.

Apple finally released their iPhone SDK to developers in March of 2008, and opened the App Store in July 2008. Developers could finally write real apps, and sell them to iphone and iPod Touch owners. This started the "Gold Rush" that today has produced more than 100,000 apps for sale in the App Store - in more than 70 countries.

To write an app for the iPhone, you need the following:

Apple's Xcode development system - a free download.

A good understanding of "object-oriented programming" (OOP). This can be hard to learn at first, but I started using OOP in 1987, so it was no problem by 2008.

Familiarity with the Objective-C programming language, which uses a C syntax for most things, but a Smalltalk-like syntax for sending messages to objects. I had not used Objective-C since the late '80s, so I had to re-learn it. It's a cool programming language, but only Apple seems to use it. Most of the rest of the world uses C, C++, C#, or Java - which all differ from Objective-C in various ways.

The iPhone SDK - a free download. Parts of iPhone programming are just like Mac OS X programming, but there are many new frameworks to support the "Cocoa Touch" user interface, so there's a lot to learn.

A Developer account with Apple that costs $99/year, just to be able to put an app on your own iPhone for testing.

An iTunes business account, so you can submit apps to the App Store.

By the time Rick and I met in September 2009 (in a helicopter at the Maui Photo Festival), I had four apps in the App Store. The design and development of "Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet" took almost four months.

Tasks included:

Deciding on the content - a four-month process that continues even today.

Prototyping the user interface - about one month.

Taking existing iPhone programs I had written, and munging them into what we eventually used - about one month.
Detailed coding and debugging - perhaps two months.

• Picking a name for the app - weeks of suggestions, counter-suggestions, and brainstorming. This is the hardest part of app development :-)

Submitting it to the App Store - a touchy process that took about two hours of messing around.

Waiting for Apple to approve the app - only took three days (this could take weeks in the past - Apple seems to have greatly improved the process in the last few weeks).

"Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet" incorporates 30+ years of Rick's photography and teaching experience (and his best photographs and techniques), and 30+ years of my programming and user interface design experience. So I guess you could say that this app took more than 60 years to develop. But it was worth it - it's a really cool app. Hey, I'm not the only one who thinks so! Check out our reviews on our app page.

Rick and I want to hear from you. Let us know (here on the blog) what topics you'd like us to add as we update the app - which should be at least once a month.

Thanks for listening.

Dave Wilson


justindwallace said...

Hey Rick,

The app looks good, and I'm sure it would be useful! But I think many would agree with me that $5 for an app is too expensive. Most good apps on the app store are $1, although I am not saying you should lower the price to that amount. I was going to buy it until I saw the price.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Rick Sammon said...

hi justin...

well - the app is like an e-book . . . with tons of info - complete with a search feature.

it will be updated at least once a month.lots of, it will offer more and more info.

photographing at rock concerts will be added soon. then snow shooting.

it's not an app that works magic with photos. rather, it's like a pocket guide to digital photography.

if you are out shooting, it can help you turn a snapshot into a great shot.

some good videos there, too.

anyway, thank you for your note and kind words.

explore the light,

hargrove said...

At first, I though the same, but having bought and used it, let me say that $5 is a steal for this app. It's amazing, beautiful, educational and fun. Considering the current content, combined with Rick's promise of future updates, it's worth 10x that amount, especially when you consider that *all* of the content is available whether you have network access or not. It's all there, at your fingertips, all the time.

Good job, Dave and Rick. Awesome, even.

Jeff Kane said...

Price is subjective - $4.99 is more than the typical app, but I think this provides much more value.

Justin - here's a link to my "user review" of Rick's app if it's helpful.

Warm Regards,


Kris Nelson said...

Switching off the price topic (although I think it's well worth it at $5, especially if those monthly updates are included).

Dave, great write-up and insight in this post. Coming from a fellow software/web developer (and '09 MPF helicopter alum), it has to be such a thrill to work on an application like this for one of your passions in life and with a photography guru like Rick Sammon, none-the-less.

Love the e-book concept, disconnected access - on my "networkless" iPod Touch - and the mix of photos and movies. A real nice touch.

Looking forward to future updates, and wishing you all the continued success here. Hopefully I'll see you guys again in Maui come August.

Best Regards,
- Kris