Gizmodo’s Developers Cubed series offers a behind the scenes look into Australia’s up and coming dev scene. This week: We chat with young developer Niall Ginsbourg about the role of Apple in App developer’s lives — even if you don’t develop for iOS.
Developers! Developers! Developers!
It’s not just Steve Ballmer’s favourite sweat-laden catchcry! If you’d like to be featured in Developers Cubed, shoot a note to alex.kidman at alluremedia.com.au. I’d love to hear from you.
Who are you and where do you work?
I’m Niall Ginsbourg – and I own my own small company called mobilewares.net running out of my home office in Melbourne, Australia, which has been going since around 2002, when I decided I’d had enough of full time corporate gigs.
My main line of work is a mix of freelance development/solutions architecture for corporate and SME clients in AU and overseas, mainly utilizing .NET/SQL Server and other MS technologies. That pays the bills. Then the remaining hours are spent creating consumer software products.
In my previous life in the ’90s and early ’00s I worked full time at various corporate companies (such as Seek and Computershare) as well as various Microsoft Solution Partners. Before that I was the co-owner/founder of Sprint Software (which produced a popular range of CD-Rom titles for Windows 3/95) in the early ’90s .
I’m also a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) in the “Windows Entertainment & Connect Home” category since 2007 (currently in my 5th year).
Why do we know you? What have you created?
At the moment, my main focus has been creating Windows Phone 7 apps for sale on Microsoft Windows Marketplace under the ‘mobilewares.net’ brand. My 34th WP7 app is currently undergoing certification. I’m probably best known in WP7 land for titles like AU Weather Pro (which was the top selling WP7 news/weather app in AU in 2011) as well as a bunch of sports titles targetting different US, Australian and New Zealand based sporting competitions. I currently have the top 3 ranked paid sports apps in Australia, and similarly I’ve had several #1 top sellers during 2011 in other regions such as the USA, Canada, Europe, South East Asia and New Zealand.
A few years prior to getting hooked on WP7 development, I launched a bunch of titles for Windows Media Center Platform (under the “Big Screen Global” brand) including various popular 10 foot plugins and tools for importing and utilizing EPG data in non Microsoft supported regions like Australia — two of the most popular being “Big Screen EPG” and “Big Screen byRemote”. Going further back, when mobilewares was founded I spent a few years developing J2ME titles for the early color smartphones such as Nokia’s Series 40/60 platforms with many apps launched globally on various carriers.
What platforms do you develop for?
Right now when I’m not doing freelance development (which is all MS.NET/Architecture etc) – it’s a pretty solid diet of Windows Phone 7 (C#, Silverlight and XNA 2d/3d).
What are you working on right now?
After a very busy couple of months — I launched 9 new Windows Phone 7 apps since the new year turned around, I’m now looking at something a little more fun, namely some games development.
I’ve had 2 XNA titles I’ve been chiselling away at past few months – one being a XNA 3D drag racing game, and the other a 2D game. I’m also quietly playing with Android, iOS and Win8 (WinRT) platforms in the background, and looking to port some of my more popular WP7 titles across.
What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?
The introduction of Apple’s iPhone App Store was without a doubt one of the most important moments for me in past decade as a developer.
It was the very first time a fair and more importantly “trusted” distribution and payment model became available and the first time there was a way to reach mainstream consumers without spending significant amounts of money/time on advertising and marketing. They’re both activities which are hard to cover when you are focused on the development side.
Prior to this getting mobile apps out to market was extremely difficult and generally required a very good international distributor and a LOT of middle men, resulting in very small percentage payouts: less than 10% in some cases.
Lack of decent storefronts too meant unless your app was in top 5-10 titles on carriers “apps” page, nobody would ever find it. While there were some early App store concepts well before Apple’s (such as Handango) the whole purchase/distribution model was extremely difficult for consumers to use and failed to provide any mainstream audience.
For the Media Center platform, Microsoft just wouldn’t provide any real opportunities for distribution at all. They actually scoffed at the idea of an App store, as they did to the idea of anyone other than Fortune 500 companies getting any exposure. So instead I resorted to running my own online store on my website, but then had to spend a lot of advertising money and effort just getting people to visit the website in the first place, making it a very hard slog.
So as much as I’m no big fan of the Apple developer tools/platform (I’m definitely a ‘PC’ and not a ‘Mac’) their app store (and iPhone) changed how everyone thought and paved the way to a huge and viable marketplace and opportunities for small developers like me on many platforms, as well as a level playing field to compete with large companies.
Its influence on my titles would be simply to say it’s now provided a commercial model for me to do what I’ve loved doing for many years and gives me access to a large mainstream audience to sell these to. Both are vital ingredients to justify spending time on investing in my own apps.
What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?
On Windows Phone, I love my word games. Currently AlphaJax (NZ produced) is one of my favourite time wasters. Apart from that, the official Facebook and Twitter clients get a lot of use, and the new Skype app will likely get the same once it’s properly integrated into the platform.
What phone do you use? Why?
Windows Phone 7 of course. Currently a HTC Mozart as it was the only phone available on launch day – but I’m eagerly awaiting my shiny new Nokia Lumia 800, which I recently won in a developer challenge. Windows Phone has got a fantastic User Experience and of course I can run all my apps too!
I purchased an iPhone 3 when they were first released, but after Windows Phone came out it sat in a drawer and collected dust. Although I did miss the breadth of apps on iOS, it looked quite outdated whenever I did fire it up.
What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
If you are thinking of developing mobile apps, have a look at Windows Phone platform, particularly if you’ve had some c# or general .NET experience as the development tools (Visual Studio) and Design Tools (Blend) are just sublime to work with compared to the others.
Also User Experience design really matters. It’s not just raw coding ability. So don’t forget to spend lots of time looking at style guides for the desired platform and checking whether the page flow/useability makes sense. If you’re not sure, send out betas to others for their opinions, and run it yourself for a few weeks before publishing.
This can be the make or break point for whether others want to use your apps, as well as what sort of reviews they give you. It’s not about having a huge feature list (“less is more”) and definitely not being “first” with a product/idea. It’s about your app offering a great experience when you do get it out there.
Whichever platform you do choose though – don’t give up your day job (unless of course you have the next Angry Birds up your sleeve). Focus your time on writing apps that “you would want to use”. Don’t just publish anything for the sake of saying you’ve done so – because that just fills marketplaces up with “crapps” not apps, which is a waste of time for you and an irritation for everyone else trying to find quality titles they actually want to use.