In this final interview with Simon Wolf we talk about the problems you encounter when your product development goes on for a long period time.
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Scotty: Hi, my name is Scotty and welcome to the Software Indie podcast. With me once again is Simon Wolf of Otter Software. Hello Simon.
Simon: Hi Scotty.
Scotty: We have been talking about your journey with your product avTag, which is scheduled for release in, let’s just say late 2013. Now, in our earlier episodes we discussed how the idea. We said, I think, it was mid-2010.
Scotty: We’ve been looking at a development time of about three and a half year. Quite a lot of things change in three and a half years, especially in the mobile market. iPad, which you’re particularly targeting and now iPhone as well and things have had to shift around. How much is the fact that things have been going on for so long affected some of the decisions you’ve had to make about the product because you’re no longer developing for the same platform that you started developing for?
Simon: I think I’m right in saying that when I first thought of avTag we didn’t even have the iPad, which is kind of a scary thought looking back on it. Originally, avTag was going to be a Mac application. Now that the iPad has arrived and that the iPad has taken off and is a brilliant device, I decided to make that the first target for it. As you say, there’s also going to be the universal iPhone application version that’ll go with it. It’s difficult when you’ve got a drawn out development process sort of like the one I’ve subjected myself to when the technology moves.
iOS has an annual release cycle. A lot generally changes each year so I have seen, as you say, quite a lot of changes have come through in the operating system. Technology has moved on, frameworks have moved on. The biggest change in a lot of ways has been this year with the whole user interface redesign work that’s going into iOS 7.
It’s not ideal; it’s certainly not something I would recommend to people to do a drawn out process. I think in an ideal world you would write your code and you would try and get it released over at a most empty phase between IOS releases, so maybe in the spring or you would target a new version. It’s kind of what I’m trying to do with avTag at the moment. When I made the deal or said that I would have avTag or an avTag beta outbefore WWDC I put in the caveat to of a beta because I just had a feeling that there probably would be some big things happening this year. It may not be wise to ship avTAg itself just before that happens.
In reality, I wouldn’t have been in a position to ship it anyway but it’s given me the space to see what’s going on in iOS 7, realize actually how much I’ve still got to do to sort out user interface. Realize that all the artwork that I’ve sort of paid for and commissioned is basically going to all be thrown out and start that whole process again, which is a little bit depressing. Then I’m looking on it as if I can ship it in the autumn for when iOS 7 launches it’ll be a fresh product, it will be designed for iOS 7, it’ll take advantage of some of the feature in iOS 7, which will be a good beginning for it. I’m starting as Apple effectively restart the iOS process with their redesign.
There’s nothing particularly in the iOS 7 APIs that make me want to just go iOS 7. It’s purely, in this case, for the UI. In previous years, I may not have faced quite such the problem and if the user interface haven’t changed so dramatically this year, I probably wouldn’t worry about it and not release and iOS 6 compatible application. It is a juggling act. You do, I think, have to time when you release applications. I never expected avTag to be I want to say so big. Actually in terms of an application, in terms of the UI to be contractive, it’s not big. What’s under the hood is quite big and there’s a lot going on under the hood. It’s quite complex in some areas because I didn’t anticipate a lot of that has meant and because I had this protracted development process has meant that iOS releases have come and gone.
Yes, not ideal, trying and time your release four over a new version of iOS coming out so you can hopefully get some publicity because your app is compatible with it or probably in a better way and probably less stressful way time it for early on or midway through an anticipated iOS release cycle.
Scotty: Now you’re developing for a platform where there is a very good uptake of now OS releases, which is I guess part behind your decision that going for an iOS 7 release because a lot of people will upgrade to iOS 7.
I guess it becomes even more complicated for people who develop for something. Let’s stick with mobile, like an Android device where actually some devices can’t even upgrade their OS at all and so you jet have – you’d been in the same period there that you’d have had this technology that moved on so much in three years but all these devices were different versions. I guess in some ways you’d a been fortunate to be working with a platform where the users go with you and you’d a been in probably maybe a lot more trouble if you were on a platform where they weren’t.
Simon: Yes, I think if I was doing this as an Android application, I would be chasing the technology more so in that I would be trying to at this point make sure the application was compatible with the latest versions of the operating system so that I could capture the highest number of people. I don’t think that after three years of development you could still release something that was based on Android as it was then. In the same way it would be quite difficult, not impossible, but it’d be quite difficult to release an iOS application that was still backwards compatible so iOS 4 is not something I would choose to do.
However, as I said, the iOS 7 changes the driving factor for me with that was mostly the user interface in that I spoke with my designer, I’ve spoken with other developers. The general feeling people have got is that trying to design something that’ll look great in both iOS 7 and iOS 6 isn’t going to be easy. Having an iOS 6 styled and skimmed application running on iOS 7 is, I think, going to look quite strange. I think there’s going to be huge change for developers with a lot of catching up, so a lot of UI redesign work to do. Although the uptake of new versions of iOS is fantastic, that wasn’t really my driving factor because I don’t expect on day one everybody to jump over to iOS 7 and there are devices that are being left behind
There are advantages to that in that performance of the application will be better because some of the older, slower devices and their long supporters. For me, anyway, it was more about the user interface rather than just thinking everybody will be jumping onto iOS 7, so I can support that and I don’t need to worry about the previous people who are still sitting with iOS 6 or possibly in some cases iOS 5.
Scotty: This was because there was such a major change in the OS as opposed to because it’s a new OS?
Simon: Yes, definitely. If Apple had kept pretty much the same user interface, I think avTag would pretty much be and I hopefully be in the final beta test stages and I would probably be releasing an application that is compatible with iOS 6. Then I would worry about tweaking it for iOS 7 closer to launch phase.
Scotty: I know a lot of our listeners are iOS developers and Mac developers but we’re not an iOS or Mac exclusive broadcast. Should we have other people? Myself, I’m developing a web application so – is what I’m talking about here. We had what I thought was an interesting conversation over a very tasty lunch earlier on. I think it was over lunch. It was some time around that period of time anyway. About beta testers, that I was commenting that since your decision to wait or release for the new OS and it was delay the release of avTag, again. I say that just to rub it in. We’ve not seen many beta build, those of us on the beta or beta program, depending on which side of the antic we’re on. Your comment was, “Well I don’t want to put too much out there now because lots of my beta testers won’t be running it.”
I find that quite interesting that you would sort of– you were wrestling with beta testers and what they were running as opposed to what you needed them to run and what you were thinking. Is it better to have – I know there are still some bugs in the old system but I was thing surely isn’t it better just to push forward and maybe have to do it with less than to just try and keep more but they’re not testing what it is you’re going to release. I know that’s [00:10:18]. I don’t want to get too technical because it’s not about technical but I just thought we’d mention that one here and let you defend yourself again, really.
Simon: Yes, there’re a couple of things going on with this. The first is obviously that over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time trying to familiarize myself with the changes that Apple have introduced. There a whole lot of new APIs, there a whole lot of user interface frameworks that have come out as well. Some of the time has been spent looking at those, watching WWDC videos, playing around with bits of codes just to see what I going on, how things should now be done and what’s possible.
The other side of it is this whole thing about what versions of the operation people are using. I am very aware and I guess anyone who is involved in iOS development will be aware that the early beta so far of iOS 7 have really felt like early beta, particularly on the iPad. It’s really, really quite unstable and I think the release of the operating system is probably some way off. Because of this, I’m guess that quite a lot of people are a bit like me and they haven’t rushed to install it on devices. Not everybody has got or can afford to have two sets of all the devices, so they’ve got a version for running iOS 6, which is their day-to-day devices. Then they can have spare devices ready for iOS 7 to install it on, it doesn’t matter what the operating system does to those.
Quite a lot of the people who are in my beta test, although they’re developers, still don’t have iOS 7 install on both an iPhone and an iPad. I’ve committed for a little bit longer of still making my build for iOS 6 and releasing those and letting people be testing against that.
Then at some point probably in a month or so I will make the leap and say, okay, we now need to push for iOS 7. Also, because I’m not going for iOS 7 because of framework changes, I don’t think that that aspect of iOS 7 testing is too important at the moment.
I’ve got bugs and I’ve got things I need to change in AvTag. With those bugs and the things that will need to be changed out there regardless whether it’s iOS 6 or iOS 7 and I can make the changes in iOS 6 or iOS 7. It makes my life a bit easier and it makes my testers’ lives probably quite a bit easier if I’m still pushing out versions that are built against iOS 6. Yes, we do need to test against iOS 7 and yes, there’s a lot of changes that need to be done against iOS 7 in the user interface. While I can still make changes to the underlying code and the backend functionality, I will do that rather than rushing forward and rather than trying to push my testers into installing a beta operating system.
I’d also rather that the operating system and the betas of it matured a bit because at the moment, there’s still a lot of gray area over what is a bug in the developer’s code and what is a bug in the SDK and the operating system on the device says. While that’s still blurry, you’re potentially playing a game of trying to fix things that actually aren’t your problem.
Scotty: That makes sense. I’ll let you get away with that one.
Simon: Thank you.
Scotty: Simon, thank you very much for this whole series of interviews, they’ve been really interesting. We plan on doing another set maybe when avTag’s released, so hopefully not too long away.
Hopefully still with a 13 in the year and just to see how it goes. Just share with people where they can follow your writings and things that are going on and get involved in the AvTag journey.
Simon: Sure, you can find my business website at ottersoftware.com. I run a blog at swwritings.com. I’m on Twitter as SGAW and I’m on Ap.net as SW. Finally, there is a signup page of the AvTag newsletter at avtag.it where you can get some updates of how things are going and there’ll be notified when AvTag is finally released.
Scotty: Simon, thank you very much, wish you all the best over these coming few months. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a Google beta program because they go on for years. My name is Scotty. This has been the Software Indie podcast. You can get a full transcript of this recording on the website at softwareindie.com. Thank you very much for listening. Until next time, you take care.