Developers Scramble to Strike iPad Gold
After getting their hands on an Apple iPad on Saturday morning, Igor Pusenjak and his brother Marko rushed back to Igor’s apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, weaving around languid dogs and seafood deliverymen.
“Careful,” Igor called out. “This is our most prized possession in the world.”
He was only half-joking.
As the creators of a best-selling iPhone game called Doodle Jump, the Pusenjaks were well aware of the financial opportunity that the iPad represented. So over the weekend they joined perhaps thousands of other software developers in an unusual scramble that drew people from as far away as Australia.
While many developers have spent weeks working on applications for Apple’s newest toy, only a handful were given iPads on which to test their software. The rest had to wait until the device went on sale Saturday for the moment of truth: How well does our app work on the iPad? Does it look and feel right? Or do we have a lot more work to do?
For small developers, the stakes are high. Having an app accepted for a highly coveted Apple product means reaching a passionate group of consumers who have demonstrated their willingness to spend over and over again on applications for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch. The potential revenue is huge; the apps market for those two devices alone is already worth a billion dollars a year in sales.
Adding to the urgency was the knowledge that many of the earliest apps for the iPhone ended up being among the most successful. A slow start with an iPad app could mean getting lost in the clutter of Apple’s crowded online store.
“A lot of developers may have suffered the pain of trying to rise to the top of the 150,000 apps that are already out there,” said Charles S. Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “They don’t want to repeat that experience.”
Doodle Jump for the iPhone, which involves catapulting a four-legged creature up a series of platforms, is near the top of that pile, having sold more than 3.5 million copies at 99 cents apiece in a little over a year (Apple pays developers 70 percent of the revenue from app sales). The challenge for the Pusenjaks will be to recreate that success on a new device that, if it sells well, could significantly expand the market for apps.
Apple provided simulation software to developers that allowed them to mimic the look and functions of an iPad on a Mac, and it began inviting them to submit iPad applications to its App Store last month. But the Pusenjaks and many other developers were apprehensive about submitting programs without first testing them on a real iPad.
The brothers were among many developers eager to get their hands on the new device.
Alexandra Peters, community manager at a developer company called Firemint, flew to New York from Australia to pick up several devices, which at the moment are on sale only in the United States. She planned to hand-deliver them early this week to the company’s headquarters in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne.
Although Firemint’s flagship titles, Flight Control and Real Racing, are already available for download on the iPad, Ms. Peters said the company would use the devices for additional testing and future development.
Ms. Peters said her colleagues at home were hoping her return flight would be on time. “They can’t wait to see it,” she said with a laugh.
As for Doodle Jump, it needed extra attention because of its heavy use of the iPad’s touch screen and motion detector.
“We wanted to wait until we had it in hand so we could see the game mechanics in action and make sure they worked perfectly,” Igor Pusenjak said.
The brothers’ original plan for Saturday was for Igor to wait for the delivery of two iPads in the afternoon and then consult via video chat with his brother, who would be at his home in Croatia, where both brothers grew up.
But they changed their strategy after seeing that the competition for iPad applications would be stiffer than they had thought.
“Once we saw how many apps were already available for the iPad, we realized we needed to jump on it right away,” said Igor, who is 34 and also teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.
Marko, 33, got on a plane and arrived in New York late on Friday night. The brothers spent some time working on designs for the new version of Doodle Jump, then got some sleep before lining up at the Apple store in the meatpacking district at 8 a.m.
Two hours later, iPad in hand, the lanky pair hurried up two flights of stairs to the airy apartment Igor shares with his wife. “This is the big moment,” Igor said as Marko unwrapped the iPad and connected it to a laptop.
The big moment
The pair took a minute to check out the competitive landscape, flipping through the iPad apps that Apple was highlighting in the store. “Wow,” Igor said, looking at a list of best sellers for the iPad. “People are buying apps already.”
Soon they had loaded up the work-in-progress version of Doodle Jump and were both grinning ear to ear as the game’s whimsical characters leapt to life. “This is going to be huge,” Marko breathed. Igor nodded in agreement.
A few hours later, the scene was less jovial. Biting a knuckle while he guided the main character around the game, Marko glanced up and said, “There are a lot more technical problems than we anticipated.”
“It’s harder to control the shooting,” Marko murmured.
“People will be used to holding it with one hand and shooting with the other,” Igor said. “We may have to rethink that.”
While playing around with the size of elements in the game, the brothers created a version with small characters in a giant-size landscape. “Hey, maybe we have an idea for a sequel,” Igor said.
They also found that BubbleWrap, a less complex iPhone app that they had already adapted for the iPad, didn’t work properly. There were odd glitches in its graphics, and the display didn’t scroll smoothly.
“This seemed simple enough to do on a simulator, but I guess not,” Igor said. “It’s definitely going to need to be fixed.”
If anything, the brothers said, the problems were an additional validation that they had made the right move to wait, rather than submit Doodle Jump early.
“Plenty of people will see a nice spike in downloads today, but we’re more concerned with the long-term stability of our application,” Igor said. The brothers estimate that it could take a few days before they were satisfied with the game.
When the app is finally ready, there is likely to be a substantial iPad audience in place. Although as of Sunday evening Apple had not released sales figures for the weekend, some analysts were saying that the iPad’s debut was stronger than they had expected.
Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, wrote in a research note that Apple might have sold as many as 700,000 iPads on Saturday alone, double what he had predicted.
By comparison, when Apple released the two most recent iPhone models, it took the company three days to sell a million phones.
That bodes well for the Pusenjaks and their competitors in the iPad app race.
“When the iPhone came out, no one realized how big of a deal the App Store was going to be,” Mr. Munster said in an interview. “But it’s a proven business model. As far as the platform goes, there is the potential for a second gold rush.”