Interview With The developers – Hooked:Pocket fishing
Ben S. and Ryan G., the developers of Hooked: Pocket fishing have let me in on a story in how they started developing, it’s pretty intriguing.
I was the video director of my church’s sunday school, where I used a Mac to do the editing. I bought a laptop and part of it’s job was to play back the videos through PowerPoint, in the days before Keynote. After Sunday School, we’d all head to the sanctuary for a sermon, and I began to realize that using a computer to access the Bible would be much nicer than flipping through pages, using a concordance to search, scribbling in the margins, or carrying a separate notebook to take notes in. So I set about the task of looking for Bible software for my Mac, and I was astounded at the very very poor user interfaces. They had been designed by Bible scholars & computer programmers – nothing a regular person could ever figure out how to use.
So I decided to learn how to write a program myself. At that time the developer tools package came pre installed on my Mac, so all I had to do was double-click a few times and I was dragging combo boxes on a window. I had tons of trouble learning the language. I had never learned any language besides VisualBasic, even though I had once bought a book called “How to Program for the Macintosh” it was really difficult, nothing made sense. You had to do so much just to get an app to run, that making the app do what I wanted was impossible. But I bought “Learning Cocoa” from O’Reilly, and later “Building Cocoa Applications” which are two very well written books. Objective-C is a much nicer language than is C or C++, to this day I still won’t write C++ code. O’Reilly’s “animal cracker” books are great, but as far as I know, they don’t have one that’s updated for the iPhone. It’s Apple’s documentation that’s so great. Once I learned Cocoa, learning Cocoa Touch was pretty easy – it’s actually much easier, in my opinion, to write an iPhone app than to write a Mac app.
So over a year I wrote my own Bible program, I got three companies to sign deals for translations of the Bible to be included, but I didn’t get far. The national Christian bookstore chains told me “our customers don’t have Macintoshes” when I was a customer with a Mac, and the local ones said “we like Accordance” (the product whose user interface was so terrible that it provoked me to design my own) but put my product on their shelves anyway. Not many sold – nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew it was available, or how great it worked. In the end, it was just too much trouble to get the kind of attention I needed, even though I sold a copy to every single person I ever did a personal demo for, that was about five.
So years later when I heard about the AppStore – a webstore in which all apps have equal footing. I saw that as a chance to get my product out there where it could be seen for what it was, instead of being swamped by others. I applied to the iPhone developer’s program and was accepted back in March, and I had BibleXpress ready for sale on day 1 of the AppStore. You can get more info on it at www.biblexpress.com.
I went to the Apple’s WWDC in June, and I learned that what’s really helpful there is not the lectures, but the one-on-one lab sessions with the engineers who wrote the code. By the way, if you get the chance, go to the labs and meet Evan Doll – he wrote the code for UIViewController, an amazing object class, and it’s what makes programming on the iPhoen such a joy. (nice guy, too). In the labs, the engineers can tell you “oh, well the reason that doesn’t work is …” or “yes, that’s a bug, submit a bug report.” instead of spending an entire day, ahem, trying to track down a bug in Apple’s code, not knowing if you tools don’t work right, or if your code is wrong.
Turns out the AppStore is great, but it’s not perfect. For instance, the day that there were so many bible programs that BibleXpress fell to the second search results page – my sales fell in half. I still have the highest rating of any Bible program on the store, but nobody sees that it’s there because they don’t know there’s a second page of apps. I get an e-mail from a user every week asking me why my app is no longer on the store.
So Ryan was looking at these apps I wrote, the scientific unit converter, Units (not Units from the most popular list, the other one), Astronomer (which actually includes some of my cutting edge range searching algorithms the Apple performance guru engineers said couldn’t be done) and immediately came up with a list of about fifteen apps he wanted to make. We made iProtractor as a test balloon to see if we could work together, and it turned out well – through we have many improvements to make. Two days before we uploaded the app to Apple, someone came out with an app of the same name, and we had to change the name from “Protractor” to “iProtractor,” which really got to me since someone else has stolen the name of my “Units” app and Apple hasn’t told them they can’t use it. He decided next we needed to go ahead and write this fishing app – we couldn’t believe “pocketfishing.com” was still available. We worked nights and weekends, typically until 3 or 4 AM for 11 days – the time from his first concept sketches to the day we uploaded it to Apple. Ryan really enjoys fishing, so this app has been a labor of love on his part. He did all the research on the lakes, the fish, the gear. He prepared all the content and graphics and sounds. In the mean time I did all the coding, and I’ve learned a lot about fishing!