App Store, Apple, HTML5: For small iPad developers, writing code is just one part of the job
London-based Meeting Gold is a small iPad developer of a meeting app under the same name. TabTimes spoke with CEO and sole developer Bill Burgar to get a view on the challenges of developing for iPad, HTML5's prospects, and the actions Apple needs to take to improve the App Store experience.
What's the back story of Meeting Gold?
I’ve been in tech forever, and worked at Nortel for three to four years after I finished university. I left around the same time as my now business partner, and we looked at the push-button telephones - which was the new technology at the time - before forming Telephonetics to write voicemail systems for cinemas (big-name clients included Odeon and Cineworld).
We floated in 2005 and sold up a couple of years later, at which point we thought that after 20 years in the business, it was time for a change
How did you come about the decision then to get into developing for the iPad?
Our CTO was at the time developing mind-mapping apps for the iPad and was earning more through that than through he was through working with us. That encouraged me to look at where things were going.
Why concentrate on meetings in particular?
After leaving Telephonetics, I looked at what apps would be good to write, and looked at what I was interested in - which is how businesses run and get the most out of people. I did a lot of training in my last job for staff to organize themselves, and I kind of assumed that everybody knows how to do it. Actually, most people are pretty poor at it.
I realized that some kind of personal system was too big, so I hit upon the idea of doing the meetings part of it. I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction around meetings, because things get lost and their hard to keep track of.
So, what’s the idea behind Meeting Gold?
We want to make it easier to get things done. I am trying to allow people to take notes easily, and to make it easier to follow-up with those notes for future meetings.
The main area of Meeting Gold is around document parts. It allows you to set actions which can jump from the document to a separate to-do list for you, or someone else in the same meeting. Meeting Gold is largely written from the manager’s point of view, and so it allows you to keep up to date with what projects people are working on, without having to look through a heap of notes.
The second part is about collaboration. You can work in small teams, and the manager can email the meeting notes to you, with these active parts included. As the manager, you can just hit the email button to email the meeting documents; the receiver opens the document, taps the attachment and sees their action from that meeting. It means only one person needs to take notes.
You’ve just launched version two of Meeting Gold. What’s new?
We listened to a great deal of feedback from many people who are using Meeting Gold every day and found that people using version one generally wanted a simpler layout. So now, with version two, you can show/hide information, people pictures, back-up to iCloud or iTunes or email archived files to yourself. There's also now calendar integration, while we've tuned Meeting Gold to support the new iPad’s Retina Display.
Who are you targeting with Meeting Gold?
We think the manager will buy it first. We hope that, because it only costs the price of a couple of coffees, that they’ll buy it for their team.
How difficult has it been to slip back into programming, having been focused on managing people in recent times?
I needed to relearn things and the specifics of writing for iPad. It’s true to say that things have moved on a fair bit from when I was last programming. It took me four months to get the first version out, but then I did want to create an app that was more in-depth than other applications.
How do you see the apps currently being written for tablets like the iPad?
A lot of apps are still being written for the iPhone in so far as they’re a very lightweight, single-purpose thing with which you do something quickly, like to send an email or check the weather.
That way of thinking has largely carried over to the way iPad apps work, although not exclusively because it’s used more for content consumption.
Do you see that philosophy changing in the near future?
Yes, I think over the next two years you’ll see apps with more depth, although they’ll still need to be simple to use. There aren’t that many enterprise-grade tablet apps out there at the moment, and the next step is about creating more content. For that reason, it’s going to be interesting when Microsoft eventually puts out Office for iPad.
To what degree has Apple changed the lives of developers, big and small?
The game changer that Apple was responsible for is offering a route to market for cottage industry programmers. With the App Store, every programmer has a route to sell their software. All right, you give Apple some mark-up, but it’s not dissimilar to distributor charges. Apple has regulated the market so it’s safe to buy, and that you - as the developer – have the stamp of approval for good quality software. It shows that you don’t have to be a Microsoft to do a good app.
There must be downsides though. It’s pretty hard to get discovered, for instance…
There definitely is a question over quality. I think app stores need to move away from boasting about the number of apps, and actually start talking about the quality of the apps. Apple’s App Store has 25 billion apps, but how many of those apps are still being used?
I guess people’s perception of choice is quite important. There’s something in the back of peoples’ minds which says that the more apps there are, the better. It’s hard to change that culture.
I guess Apple wants you to think that because the App Store is one of the plus points of buying an iPad…
Apple is actually quite concerned about this. They recently sent out an email advising developers to keep the quality up, and to stop playing the system. The problem is, if you give your app away free, it looks like you’ve sold more and are more popular, even if its rubbish. People don’t tend to go much further than the front page of the app store.
How can Apple sort this problem out?
It’s in Apple’s control to sort apps on the App Store. If you sorted apps by popularity and rating, it would bring the quality of apps up, and that’s to everyone’s benefit. Then it’s up to the developers to write really good software.
Do you see much mileage for HTML5 apps in enterprise, or should it all be native?
I haven’t invested much time with HTML5, but it does seem that you have to dumb things down a lot, to make into a tool which can be used across all platforms. You end up doing the lowest common denominator stuff, and that tends to be a bad thing. It’s all swings and roundabouts though; as you certainly speed up development time and accessibility. But for me, for enterprise you have to go native.