How to become a happy iPhone developer

Although some Apple developers are airing a lot of frustration lately, mDialog's Greg Philpott wants it known that he's basically happy about creating software for Apple platforms.

While iPhone software applications like Podster and Murderdrome have gotten nixed by Apple's App Store, thousands of others are indeed up there for download. A "social video" application from mDialog, available since the App Store's launch on July 10, is driving considerable new business for mDialog, said Greg Philpott, the company's founder and CEO. In an interview with BetaNews, Philpott also shared some tips for other developers interested in getting their software into the App Store.

"For one thing, I'd never try to build something that's already in iPhone. You want to be adding something unique," according to Philpott, who described himself as happy to be working with Apple.

To succeed in a business sense, you really need to get to know Apple, Philpott suggested. But he also gave examples of how Apple's third-party developers can wield influence within that relationship, in mutually advantageous ways.

mDialog's business model revolves around subscription-based storage, sharing, and delivery of high-def video content produced by end users ranging from video novices to pros. The company started developing for Apple platforms after licensing Apple's MPEG4 H.264 video encoding technology.

Its flagship app, mLoader, is designed to let end users encode, describe, and upload MPEG-4 H.264 videos in 960x540 HD directly from the Mac desktop. A "client-side server" design is used for converting the video during uploads to mDialog's Web site, so the video can go live right away, according to Philpott. The technology also supports Apple TV.

With its new iPhone app, mDialog is extending that approach to the mobile platform, letting users upload videos from their phones to mDialog's Web site for sharing through an "e-mail-to-a-friend" feature.

"We were an existing Apple developer, and we already had a video delivery platform in place. We had support from Apple to produce [a mobile application] and to optimize it for iPhone. We applied as an Apple partner, and we were accepted," he told BetaNews.

On July 10 of this year, mDialog released the iPhone app, along with another new piece of software: a separate browser plug-in app. The iPhone app lets users rate, comment on, and vote on videos, as well as create personalized favorites lists.

How can other developers build apps that will make it into the App Store? According to Philpott, it's essential to start attending Apple developer conferences, particularly the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) held in Cupertino, CA each year. "If you don't go to WWDC, I'd say, 'Don't even bother.' It's the best money you'll ever spend," he contended.

At the conference, third-party developers can meet, learn from, and exchange ideas with Apple engineers. "This isn't a 'fan' thing. You're face-to-face with the people who are actually writing the code," he said.

After you start developing, you can submit "enhancement requests" -- Apple's parlance for bug reports. "After turning these in, we've seen [the] fixes incorporated into new releases of Apple software," according to Philpott.

It also helps to follow the "design guide" that Apple gives to developers. In the interests of achieving a uniform look-and-feel across third-party apps, the guide gives what Philpott called "strong suggestions" from Apple about various app design issues, such as how to create list boxes.

But the suggestions aren't absolute requirements from Apple, the CEO noted.

"The first time around [with the iPhone app], we did 'default everything,'" he recalled. But since the release of the first version, mDialog's developers have produced two updates, tweaking the app along the way for improved video transmission over 3G networks.

Each update needed Apple's okay before getting posted to the App Store, but mDialog got approval after a few weeks each time. Although Philpott didn't say so, it would certainly seem in Apple's best interests for users to be able to send high quality video over a 3G connection.

Still, Philpott wishes that mDialog was able to list the dates of the revisions in the App Store, so people who downloaded the first release could find out about the software updates more easily. Instead, like other apps in the online store, mVideo's social video app is listed under the date it first appeared in the store, despite software updates.

"But that's the way it has to be, really," Philpott said. He predicted that, otherwise, some developers might file an ongoing barrage of updates for no other reason than to keep their apps at the top of the App Store.

Philpott acknowledged that the iPhone SDK doesn't talk about Apple's "kill switch," which was used recently to shut down developer Alex Sokirynsky's Podcaster application when he tried to use "Ad Hoc App Distribution" -- a feature of the iPhone/iPod Touch platform -- to distribute the app himself.

"But Android has a kill switch, too -- and Android Market can also get rid of applications, if it wants," Philpott added.

It's been widely reported that Google is warning its developers about a kill switch in Android, a new open source-based rival to Apple's iPhone platform. Also, just before T-Mobile's launch of its G1 -- the first Android phone to come to market -- Google took down most of its initial slate of 50 apps down for further testing, before returning all or most of them by the middle of the week.

Today, Google is expected to announce that its Android Market will open up to considerably more developers this coming Monday, and that Android developers will be able to start charging for their apps in January of 2009.

Meanwhile, though, developers don't even need to get their applications in to the App Store in order to distribute them for iPhones and other Apple platforms, Philpott said: "You can always just build a Safari browser app, and get your software out to people that way."

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