Interview: Sam Easterby-Smith and iPhone apps

Happiness Pipe iPhone versionI run a small consultancy business in Manchester called Spotlight Kid specialising in iPhone and mobile related stuff, generally focusing on applications for education, entertainment and the arts. I run training courses, strategic workshops and do actual real development work! In the old days I used to work for CETIS at Bolton.

Why iPhone apps?

I think the iPhone is interesting is because it changes the context of computing. Instead of it being a desk-based thing, or a sitting down in café with a laptop kind of thing, it becomes a wherever you are, stood on a street corner, always in your pocket kind of thing. While mobile devices, even with connectivity, have existed for years, the iPhone was the big game-changer in terms of making it usable and rather popular. Likewise, I think if the iPad has a niche it belongs on the sofa or the coffee table, again shifting the context.

And is the iPhone a Dev8D kind of thing?

There’s certainly interest here. I led a workshop yesterday where we took something like 30-40 people with no knowledge of programming in Objective-C from ‘hello world’ to building a very simple Twitter search client. That’s already had the result that one of the people doing the workshop has started using what he learnt to do to build a lightswitch into his phone in the Arduino workshop. Very impressive!

What iPhone projects have you been working on here?

I’ve been particularly thinking about navigation within buildings. This is a problem for most GPS-enabled hardware at the moment, it becomes very inaccurate within a building and so the accuracy of your location goes from 10m to anywhere up a kilometre or two.  I’ve been thinking about how to solve that problem and looking at data we can use in an augmented reality type of context, including the resources provided by the MLA and other bits of geo-tagged data we can find. It’s about using augmented reality techniques to visualise geo-located data of various kinds.

[Sam showed me the version of this he is working on: point the phone in a direction and  notes pop up on the screen displaying landmarks and their distances from that point, both within the building (such as the Project Zone) and outside (such as Russell Square tube station). In addition, a note about which event or talk is on in each location within the building appears.

The idea is that this will be a generic tool that could be used with any data set from a conference or even a music festival or arts event, such as Glastonbury or the Edinburgh festival]

Last year you made the Developer Happiness Pipe. Is it back again this year?

It’s back – with an iPhone version! Getting here this year I made a couple of minor changes – most important was adding a JSON output format so that can catch the data from it and export it. So I can pick that up from the iPhone up to work out what the current happiness rating is.  Anthony Seminara has made a set of Lego people images representing 10 different states of happiness.

What are your top 5 tips for building iPhone apps?

  1. Don’t make it too complicated
  2. Do your memory management properly
  3. Make something that people will want to use everyday
  4. Make something that works better on your phone than on your desktop
  5. Read Apple’s user interface guidelines otherwise they may reject it from the store

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