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The day that changed your phone forever

In the code you’ll see things like a root view controller that’s also an application delegate: remember that we were all learning how to write apps without any documentation. There’s also a complete lack of properties, storyboards, asset catalogs, and many other things we take for granted in our modern tools.

If you don’t have Xcode, you’re still in luck. Long-time “iPhone enthusiast” Steve Troughton-Smith sells an improved version on the App Store. I still love this game and play it frequently: Its induction into iMore’s Hall of Fame is well-deserved.

Now I was armed with tools and inspiration. What came next?

The Iconfactory’s first apps

The first version of Twitterrific on the iPhone. And pens. And slerp.

In June 2007, we had just released version 2.1 of our wildly popular Mac app for Twitter. It should have be pretty easy to move some Cocoa code from one platform to another, right?

Not really. But I was learning a lot and having a blast. The iPhone attracted coders of all kinds, including our own Sean Heber.

In 2007, Sean was doing web development and didn’t know anything about Objective-C or programming for the Mac. But that didn’t stop him from poking around in the class-dump headers with the rest of us and writing his first app.

But he took it a step further with a goal to write an app for every day of November 2007 (inspired by his wife doing NaNoWriMo.) He called it iApp-a-Day and it was a hit in the Jailbreak community. The attention eventually landed him a position at Tapulous, alongside the talented folks responsible for the iPhone’s first hit franchise: Tap Tap Revenge.

Over the course of the month, Sean showed that the iPhone could be whatever the developer wanted it to be. Sure, it could play games, but it could also keep track of your budgetplay a tune, or help you hang a painting.

Both Sean and I have archives of the apps we produced during this period. The code is admittedly terrible, but for us it represents something much greater. Reading it brings back fond memories of the halcyon days where we were experimenting with the future.

Screenshots from Sean Heber’s iApp-a-Day.

There were a lot of surprises in that early version of UIKit. It took forever to find the XML parser because it was buried in the OfficeImport framework. And some important stuff was completely missing: there was no way to return a floating point value with Objective-C.

There were also strange engineering decisions. You could put arbitrary HTML into a text view, which worked fine with simple tags like b, but crashed with more complex ones. Views also used LKLayer for compositing, which was kinda like the new Core Animation in Mac OS Leopard, but not the same. Tables also introduced a new concept called “cell reuse” which allowed for fast scrolling, but it was complex and unwieldy. And it would have been awesome to have view controllers like the ones just released for AppKit.

But that didn’t stop us from experimenting and learning what we could do. And then something happened: we stopped.

A real SDK

Twitterrific’s design at the App Store launch.

Apple had worked its butt off to get the iPhone out the door. Those of us who were writing Jailbreak apps saw some warts in that first product, but they didn’t matter at all. Real artists ship. Only fools thought it sucked.

Everyone who’s shipped a product knows that the “Whew, we did it!” is quickly followed by a “What’s next?”

Maybe the answer to that question was influenced by all the Jailbreaking, or maybe the managers in Cupertino knew what they wanted before the launch. Either way, we were all thrilled when an official SDK was announced by Steve Jobs, a mere five months after release of the phone itself.

The iPhone SDK was promised for February of 2008, and given the size of the task, no one was disappointed when it slipped by just a few days. The release was accompanied by an event at the Town Hall theater.

Ten years ago today was the first time we learned about the Simulator and other changes in Xcode, new and exciting frameworks like Core Location and OpenGL, and a brand new App Store that would get our products into the hands of customers. Jason Snell transcribed the event for Macworld. There’s also a video.

Our turn to be real artists

Winning an Apple Design Award. Thank you. (Source: Steve Weller)

After recovering from all the great news, developers everywhere started thinking about shipping. We didn’t know exactly how long we would have, but we knew we had to hustle.

In the end, we had about four months to get our apps ready. Thanks to what The Iconfactory learned during the Jailbreak era, we had a head start understanding design and development issues. But we still worked our butts off to build the first iPhone’s Twitter app.

Just before the launch of the App Store, Apple added new categories during its annual design awards ceremony. We were thrilled to win an ADA for our work on the iPhone.

How thrilled? The exclamation I used while downloading the new SDK was the same as getting to hold that silver cube.

After that, we were among the first apps to be featured in the App Store and ranked high in the early charts. We knew we were a part of something big. Just not how big.

The journey continues

The second version of Twitterrific and some guy.

The Iconfactory’s first mobile app entered a store where there were hundreds of products. There are now over 2 million.

We now sell mobile apps for consumers and tools for the designers  developers who make them. We now do design work for mobile apps at companies largemedium, and
small.

We now develop mobile apps for a select group of clients. (Get in touch if you’d like to be one of them.) A lot can happen in a decade.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Our entire team is still proud to be a part of this vibrant ecosystem and of the contributions we make to it. Here’s to another decade!

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