We met up with both Victor Toporkov and Murad Nazaraliev of Vito Technology during WWDC this past week, and while we know the company's name well from their great Star Walk and Solar Walk apps (the first one won an Apple Design Award this week, and the second one is quite popular, too), we learned some interesting facts about the history of the company. Toporkov now lives in the United States, but the company has its roots in Novosibirsk, the biggest city in Siberia. Back in the 1950s, Russia created a scientific center out in the middle of Siberia, consisting of a whole group of nuclear and scientific research facilities. Toporkov was one of those nuclear scientists, and now that the Cold War is over, he and many other scientists in that community have moved on to creating various kinds of software. In fact, the region itself is now sometimes referred to as "Silicon Forest," in a comparison with Silicon Valley in the US.
I found that background fascinating. But of course, Vito is looking to the future -- after a couple of solid educational astronomy apps on the App Store, they're looking to come back down to Earth with Geo Walk. I first got to use this app back at Macworld Expo this year, but the latest version has come a long way, with lots of various nodes to browse around a 3D globe, featuring historical locations or individuals. The app is due out next week on the App Store, with an iPad version coming later in July, and Vito says they'll be pricing the app at just 99 cents -- it's meant for kids, and they're trying to find the lowest acceptable price possible.
After release, they'll be adding information to Geo Walk in various updates, and Toporkov says the company will listen very closely to the community, adding in suggested information about local landmarks or history when possible. They'd also like to eventually add sounds and videos to the map, rather than just browsing around text points on the globe as you can now. Toporkov says that with Geo Walk, the company is hoping to show customers that they're not just an astronomy company -- while both of their apps so far have focused on space, what they really want to do is just make entertaining educational apps, whatever the subject.
I asked the developers about iPhone 4, and they said that they'd be working as hard as possible to make sure all of their current apps were updated for the new handset, as well as staying backwards-compatible with previous versions of iOS and previous iPhones. When iPhone 4 comes out, they will have three different versions of the apps running, and the app will check to see which one to run when it starts up. They're excited to play around with the new gyroscope, too -- "for Star Walk," they said, "that will be very important."
For all of their success, Toporkov says he's delighted with Apple and the App Store. The company has released other mobile apps, and examined other marketplaces and platforms, but they're sticking with Apple's platform both because Apple's plan allows them to sell apps more easily and gain more profit from those sales, and because they have a larger market, both in the US and Russia as well as Japan and Europe. "Some developers will blame Apple for being closed, or having an unpredictable approval process," Toporkov told me. "For us, that's all true, too. But still, we can say thanks for Apple."