Parveen Kaler points out that the iPhone Game Design course offered by the British Columbia Institute of Technology virtually had to be created from scratch. That’s because it was launched in September, just six months after Apple released the smartphone’s software-development kit.
“It was very early in the iPhone development cycle,” Kaler—CEO of Smartful Studios, a Vancouver-based iPhone-app development studio—told the Georgia Straight. “There weren’t even textbooks available at that time.”
After working as a programmer at Slant Six Games and Relic Entertainment, Kaler founded Smartful in February 2008. He spent three months helping BCIT design the course and taught the first session.
“When I was working on the Sony PSP was when I really drank the mobile Kool-Aid,” Kaler said.
For years, even basic mobile phones have shipped with games and other applications. As handsets have become more advanced, so have the programs they run.
Now, with the rise of the iTunes App Store, anyone who develops a half-decent iPhone application can sell it to the millions of iPhone users around the world, which can be quite lucrative. With the simple artillery game iShoot earning programmer Ethan Nicholas US$800,000 in the first five months it was on sale, the iPhone is attracting a lot of attention from developers.
Students each pay $495 to enroll in BCIT’s part-time, 12-week course. The current session began this month and wraps up in July. Kaler said the students he keeps in touch with from the first session are all working in iPhone-app development.
BCIT is now in the exploratory stages of developing an entire program devoted to iPhone-software development. It was always the plan to do this, according to Laura Davie, associate dean of digital arts at BCIT’s school of business.
“We started up the iPhone course to gauge the interest,” she said in a phone interview.
The next step, Davie said, was a meeting “with an ad hoc advisory panel of gaming professionals in the city who are interested in participating and giving us information on what skills they require and that they’d be looking for in people that they’d hire”.
Michael Imai completed the course this month. He’s hoping to transition his 25-year software-development career into writing applications for the iPhone.
“I converted to an Apple user about 10 years ago,” Imai said. “I’ve been looking for work, and when I started looking at it last fall, I wanted to get up to speed on iPhone development—not necessarily in games but in iPhone development. I wanted to take these games just to learn the iPhone.”
Imai said the iPhone course is geared to those with a background in writing software. If BCIT does expand the course into a full program, it might be more accessible to students with little software-development experience.
“One of the things that I found was that, if there were other students who started the course without a programming background or without an iPhone-language programming background, most of them had dropped out and it was quickly overwhelming,” he said.
Handi Mobility is one local company that saw the potential in iPhone-app development early on. The mobile-services firm had been working with TransLink for over a year when the iPhone arrived in Canada. Handi Mobility built the regional transportation authority’s Next Bus text-messaging tool and Facebook application.
“Once the iPhone came out, it was clear that the market share in Vancouver would definitely increase, and the first thing we decided to do was the [TransLink] iPhone Web application, which allows users to access the information in a very neat and I’d say beautiful way,” said Igor Faletski, the company’s CEO.
When Apple released the software-development kit, allowing developers outside of the company to write applications for the iPhone, Handi Mobility quickly started to work on a downloadable program that users could install on the smartphone. The resulting TransLink application is available from the App Store.
Both Kaler and Faletski say there’s a lot of room for mobile-phone-app development to grow in Vancouver.
Faletski noted that Handi Mobility’s latest product, Mobify, is meant to work with all mobile platforms.
“The iPhone is just one of the many platforms that are very important to mobile,” Faletski said. “Very soon you’ll see BlackBerry, Android, and Nokia getting much better phones into customers’ hands.”
Kaler agrees that the iPhone is just one of many mobile platforms to develop software for. However, he said learning how to write applications for the iPhone will help prepare students to work with other phones.
“You need to get into that mobile-development mindset that you’re developing for a phone, which is a mission-critical device,” Kaler said, “and there are users who, when they need to make a phone call, need to make a phone call, and you’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind every single time you make an application.”