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Voices that Matter iPhone: "From iPhone to iPad" panel


To end the first day of the Voices that Matter iPhone conference in Seattle last weekend, a group of veteran iPhone developers sat down for a roundtable panel and talked about the iPad. August Trometer (Yowza!!), Brent Simmons (NetNewsWire), Kyle Kinkade (Tap Tap Revenge), Daniel Pasco of Black Pixel, Tim Wood of The Omni Group, and TUAW's own Erica Sadun were questioned by moderator Chuck Toporek about the differences between the iPhone and the iPad and a few of the pressing issues that both devices are likely to face in the future.

Even though the panel ended the day (and all of the attendees and panelists were craving the eventual beer and pizza that would be available later in the evening), it was a lively discussion that offered both insight and frank opinions from these developers. Read on to hear what they said about Flash on the iPhone, app pricing, and their favorite apps on the iPad.

The panel started with a question about whether the iPad presented a second gold rush for developers, and Kinkade summed up his answer with a succinct "Yes." Sadun said that the pressure for developers to be on hand and ready to go at launch was very strong. However, even if you're a developer who hasn't released an iPad app yet, all is not lost. Pasco promised that this was only the beginning, not only for the platform (which is really just a few weeks old), but also for the interface.

The developers were polled on their feelings about creating universal apps for the iPhone and the iPad, and while Apple (and even the customer base) seems to be pushing for that, it was generally agreed that, as a developer, creating a universal app isn't the best solution. Simmons said that it was too much trouble, and he tied himself down by requiring the same app to deal with the limitations of both devices. Trometer agreed and pointed out that it also cut off an income stream by requiring devs to sell only one app. Kinkade said that if it was possible that a full iPad version of an app would provide more value for users, then a developer should create it. Sadun agreed with Kinkade and pointed out that over-the-air delivery was an issue, too; if a developer's iPad app goes over 20mb, then it limits the number of iPhone users who will download it.

Toporek asked the panelists to offer their opinions about the major design differences between the two devices. Sadun brought some laughs from the crowd when she said that the iPhone was "folded space," but on the iPad, developers could "throw back your hair and truly enjoy every pixel on the screen." Kinkade also added that the faster processor, and the fact that you could have more multitouches, made a difference. Then, Pasco named the bigger screen as being the real draw, saying that the iPhone feels "stripped down" in comparison to the larger device. Pasco also said that the iPad is a stepping stone; it's a first step on the road to sci-fi interfaces like those seen in Avatar and Minority Report. "The iPad," suggested Pasco, "may have been the plan all along."

The topic of Flash was brought up, and the developers were in agreement that Flash wasn't needed, either on the iPhone or in its development. A few experienced Flash developers in the audience said that they'd rather stick with the tools they know, but all of the developers on stage were adamant that abstracting iPhone development into Flash was not the way to go. "HTML5 is way better," Kinkade said. Simmons had the strongest opinion, saying "Objective-C is good," and that developers should "man up." Sadun commiserated with Flash developers, agreeing that it was a pain. Apple, she said, "is our abusive boyfriend."

"They gave you the best tools for the platform," added Pasco, "and they're asking you to use them." When developers in attendance grew rowdy, one of them showed dismay that they had to use Objective-C to develop iPhone apps. "Objective-C blows?" mocked Kinkade. "I've got a tattoo that says otherwise."

App pricing was the next topic, and the panelists addressed the question of how iPad apps should be priced. The OmniGraffle developer suggested a $50 price point; the rest quickly agreed that developers needed to price apps according to what they're worth. Someone in the audience asked if Apple should set the benchmarks, and the panel said that it was the developers' and consumers' jobs to set app prices, not Apple's. However, they did say that developers should aim for sustainable pricing rather than racing to the bottom as they did on the iPhone. "We will not be fooled again," declared Sadun.

The developers all seemed to agree that part of the issue around app pricing was the buying experience -- it's tough to sell a more expensive app with just a few screenshots and a description, even if the app is good. Sadun recommended that developers make videos and add as much information as they can. Adding in-app purchases for upgrades also helps, said Pasco. Ratings didn't further sales, the audience said, and the developers agreed, but didn't have a good suggestion for how to make app ratings better (though the removal of rate-on-delete coming up in the new iPhone OS should help, they said). Kinkade said that developers should think about their audience, too, especially when dealing with free apps. "We have American Idol. That shouldn't exist. A lot of people watch that show, and they're rating apps. Ponder that for a moment," he said.

Someone asked about creating a system to sync apps between devices, but the panel said that would be a hard thing to do. Apple probably could, but it hasn't yet.

Finally, the panel was asked about apps that they thought worked better on the iPad. Trometer, who was sitting next to Brent Simmons, said that he had to use NetNewsWire on the iPad now. "I can't stand it on the iPhone," he said. Simmons responded, "I'm in the same boat." Kinkade prefers Things on the iPad, and Tim Wood said that he only uses his iPhone for quick actions, like Mail and Twitter, now. Sadun said that she would stand up for the iPhone and stated that she still uses TrailGuru and plays music only on the iPhone. Wood actually said that he's mostly abandoned his laptop for the iPad, but there were still a few holdouts among the rest of the panelists. "Xcode is keeping me on the laptop," said Pasco.

The panelists were also asked to name what their favorite iPad apps are to date. Plants vs. Zombies HD was a big favorite -- Sadun, Pasco, and Kinkade all fessed up to spending time collecting sun and fighting the undead. Wood likes NetNewsWire, and he said that it has pulled his RSS reading "away from the computer." Pasco likes iBooks and the ABC Player (for Lost), but he says that he's still looking for something like Beejive for the iPad.

Kinkade said that Mail is one of his favorite iPad apps, and he's gotten into Numbers on the iPad as well. Simmons enjoys Star Walk a lot, though it's not one of his most-used apps, and Trometer said that, during the flight out to the conference, he'd very much enjoyed watching Netflix (via Wi-Fi) on the plane.

With that, the developers were off for beers at the evening's reception. The panel presented an interesting and frank talk about the early days of the iPad.

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