Vancouver app developers seize iPad opportunity

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      With more than two million iPads sold since the device’s April 3 debut in the United States, and now that it’s been released in Canada, Apple’s newest gadget presents a major opportunity for software makers. Several Vancouver developers started building applications for the tablet computer shortly after Apple unveiled it in January, while others were working on apps even before the official announcement.

      Brad Dolman and Pierre Houston founded Room1337 Ventures two years ago, and the company released its first iPhone application, 321 Photo, in December. Now, Room1337 is developing a game for the iPad.

      “I think, for most people, it’s the only computer they really need—for surfing the Web, for writing an e-mail, and maybe writing the occasional document,” Dolman told the Georgia Straight at a Yaletown coffee shop. “In terms of taking the Internet experience and taking it out on the road, I don’t think that it can be beat right now, and for the foreseeable future it’s really going to define that market.”

      Working on products for the iPad clearly excites Dolman and Houston, as do the opportunities offered by Apple’s App Store for reaching consumers.

      “With the App Store, we could just have a small company, keep our costs really low and keep a reasonable percentage of the revenue, and not have to have huge teams of people who are doing marketing and sales and things like that,” Dolman said.

      The App Store, the on-line marketplace for iPad and iPhone applications, is one of the keys to the iPad’s success, according to Andrei Iancu, who teaches a course on iPhone app development at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. (On June 2, BCIT announced that it will introduce an iPad development course this fall.)

      At a downtown Vancouver café, Iancu explained that Apple has done several things with its App Store that help iPad and iPhone developers. “They reduced some bottlenecks, some thresholds that no normal developer would be able to go through,” he told the Straight. “All the legal, all the distribution issues—they can distribute in 70 countries without a headache. Apple transfers the money. Apple deals with the taxes and the local governments.”

      The App Store is one of the major factors that have allowed Vancouver game developer IUGO Mobile Entertainment to publish titles for the iPhone and now the iPad with relative ease. Having developed for older mobile platforms such as Java 2 Micro Edition, Brew, and Symbian, the studio saw the App Store as a way to move from working on games for other companies to developing its own titles, according to Sarah Thomson, IUGO’s director of business development.

      Having had success building up its brand on the iPhone, IUGO was quick to ensure that it had games such as Cliffed XL and Zombie Attack! Second Wave XL ready to go for the U.S. release of the iPad.

      “We were able to put together four titles that had special iPad-only features and special enhancements for the iPad,” Thomson told the Straight by phone.

      While Thomson is able to speak openly about what IUGO has produced for the iPad, a number of other local developers who have worked on already-released iPad applications for other companies are unable to comment on them for contractual reasons.

      Iancu, the BCIT instructor, is also the CEO of Dynamic Leap Technology, which has released a number of iPad applications. Atimi Software, which has developed iPhone applications for the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Times, Warner Bros., and Etch A Sketch, has built several iPad applications on offer in the App Store.

      Scott Michaels, Atimi’s vice president for client services, explained that developing for the iPad is different from developing for the iPhone. “Apple’s direction is specifically that it’s not just a bigger iPhone,” he told the Straight by phone.

      Michaels used the example of a hypothetical cooking application to illustrate how iPad and iPhone versions of an app might be different.

      On the iPhone, you might look up a recipe and create a grocery list, Michaels said. “Whereas on the iPad, you might look to go into a cooking mode where you would assume the pad would be near the person who was cooking,” he explained. “And you would bring up the steps to produce the recipe in really big fonts and then scroll through, so the person could actually cook the food with the iPad near them.”

      Duplicating the success of the iPad, and enticing developers to work on competing platforms, is something that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard are hoping to achieve. Iancu, however, argues that for now they’re at a disadvantage. He pointed out that Canadian developers aren’t yet allowed to sell applications in the Google-backed Android Market. According to Iancu, the wide variety of handsets running the Android operating system is another drawback for developers.

      “With the iPad and iPhone, that’s all you need to develop for,” he said. “There’s two screens. With Android, each device has its own quirks.”