Do you know where you were exactly five years ago today? I do because I had just finished spending three days loading every single one of the initial iTunes App Store apps into a data base. I was right here, at my kitchen table in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I had just started my summer vacation and my partners and I knew we had to get the first App Store apps loaded as quickly as possible. Let me go back a bit and then share a few thoughts and reflections.
My partners in my first website and I decided to create an iPhone app review site just a few weeks before the iTunes App Store was to go live. They are programmers so while I was able to offer thoughts on the design and functionality of the site they were the ones who spent days and days hand coding the first version of that site. We knew we had a small window and we moved quickly as a result. The initial site was ready just a few days before the App Store was set to go live. We planned to wait until it did and then figure out how to get the data on those first apps from Apple’s site into our database.
As the anticipation built I posted the following on that website.
This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Smartphone
On Friday the iPhone gains the ability to accept third-party programs. In doing so it joins the ranks of the Treos, Windows Mobile and Symbian devices. Right? Wrong!
Although it would be easy to make the analogy between iPhone applications and the applications on all those other devices it is the wrong analogy. In fact, I would venture to say that if that is the analogy that frames the development of iPhone applications the device will be sorely underutilized. As July 11th approaches it is becoming increasingly clear that there are two possible scenarios that could play out beginning this Friday and only one of them sets the stage for the next generation of mobile computing.
Scenario 1- We see tons of software released for the iPhone that looks quite similar to their Windows Mobile, Treo or Symbian counterparts. While they will certainly add functionality to the iPhone, they will, by and large, be missed opportunities that maintain the status quo.
Scenario 2- Developers realize that the iPhone offers new options and power that shape the direction of their programming for it. As a result, the applications released for it are conceived of and executed DIFFERENTLY than the programs built for WM, Treos or Symbian devices.
Some may look and function the way similar applications do on those other platforms but others will enter into entirely new terrain. I, for one, am glad to see that this is exactly what is happening at least when the SDK is in the hands of some of the more creative and forward thinking developers out there.
Then came some good news… and some bad.
The Good News: I don’t remember the reasons for it or the details of it but we had access to see what apps were initially in the iTunes App Store a couple of days before the App store was actually open for business. That meant there was a chance we could actually have all the apps loaded into our database before people actually started using the App Store. If I recall correctly we had a two or three day window. Plenty of time to load 500+ apps right? Not so fast.
The Bad News: The iTunes App Store app descriptions were in the form of images. That meant that, at least initially, we could not copy and paste descriptions but, instead, would have to input the app name, app description, app price and similar details by hand. That would not have been a big deal were there a few dozen apps in the store but there were over 500 at launch. My partners were still working on some of the code which meant I was the one who was going to be inputting all the data on the first apps. I got to work and spent three solid days at the computer with little sleep and focused on one thing… apps.
We got the database set and by the time the iTunes App Store was live our site was loaded with all of the initial apps. Of those initial apps I think the only one I still use on a regular basis is Evernote. At times I go back to Appigo ToDo but Apple’s Reminders app usually takes its place. The other app I still use wasn’t available at launch but its creator was my first App Developer interview. Alex Kac of WebIS was my very first app-interview. I had used his program Pocket Informant when I was a Windows Mobile user and was excited to learn that he planned to He was kind enough to spend a good bit of time on the phone with us and then gave me an exclusive early look at Pocket Informant. When people began to complain that PI was taking to long I wrote a post entitled, “First From The Gate Isn?t Necessarily Best…” I meant it then and I still mean it. Time and careful planning are part of the mix if you want to create a powerful app. That is exactly what Alex did and that is exactly what Alex continues to do. If you have not tried Pocket Informant you should! (We are grateful that, as a Gear Diary Newsletter Underwriter, he continues to be a supporter of ours.)
It all wasn’t rosy however. Along with the App Store came iOS 2.0 and MobileMe. They were a disaster. MobileMe was buggy as hell and iOS 2.0 crashed… constantly. A big part of the issue it turned out was that most (all?) developers had to create their initial apps using the Developer Kit and were not able to actually try the apps on devices running iOS 2.0. It showed. I can recall thinking to myself, “I just coded all these apps into a database but if apple doesn’t fix this… fast… I’m going to a different platform.” A few weeks later they did just that. The rest is history.
One final note on the launch of the iTunes App Store and its impact. One of that site’s most enthusiastic and active readers eventually started to write for the site. When I left the site a year later and began to write for Gear Diary he asked if there might be room for another Gear Diary writer. I’m thrilled to say that more than four years later Travis is still a good friend and still continues to share his enthusiasm here on GD.
What were your first iOS apps? Do you still use any of them? Let us know in the comments below.