A developer’s thoughts on the iPad

Written by David Frampton @ 1:31 am, January 29, 2010

Much has been said already on the iPad, but I thought I’d chime in. I’ll try to keep everything I say very clearly from a developer’s perspective. I’m excited to get one for my own use, but won’t go into the details here.

To understand exactly where I am coming from, here’s a little background. I have released apps for both the iPhone and the Mac, mostly games or entertainment apps. I am nearing completion of the biggest project of my life, Chopper 2, which will be released first on the iPhone/iPad, and later on the Mac.

So first, the thing I am most surprised and happy about; it’s dirt cheap. I, like many others was expecting a price point of $999, and to see the entry level model at $499 Is incredible. This is fantastic news, as it means more people will be able to afford it, which is more people who can play my games on it. At this early stage in the game it seems to me a very wise move, I just hope they are generating enough devices to satisfy the demand.

And yes, I think it will sell that well. Even in the very short time since it’s release, it has become clear that the hardcore geeks don’t tend to like it, while the general public will be lining up the day before. Exactly the way it should be. Like it or not, geeks do not make up the majority of the population. This is a device for the masses, as much if not more so than the iPhone. And for a game developer, this is a very very good thing.

This won’t be like the App Store gold rush though. When the App Store launched there were already millions of devices ready to rush in and snap up one of the couple of thousand apps available on launch day.

This time, there will be zero devices, and over 140,000 apps that already run. People will still look for iPad specific apps to run on their devices, but it will be a slowly rising level of sales. Sure Apple might sell a million devices on the first day, but it still pales in comparison with the App Store launch. App price expectations are also far lower now, and thousands of developers know how to code for the device, and have iPhone apps ready to port over with a day in Photoshop and a few clicks.

On a more technical level, the up scaling of iPhone apps doesn’t look very good. It simply takes every pixel you’d see on an iPhone, and makes it occupy 4 pixels on the iPad. No interpolation, no cleverness in it’s scaling. This is completely understandable, but means that demand for native/universal ports will be very high. I find it impossible to ignore a flood of emails requesting something, so know already that I will be doing an iPad version of the original version of Chopper.

So it is my belief that developers everywhere will be forced to upgrade their apps. Perhaps not initially, but as the iPad user base grows, it will be hard to ignore. And Apple have made it very clear that their preference is for a ‘Universal’ app – one that runs natively on both types of device. This has a couple of repercussions for developers (and customers).

Firstly, iPhone apps are going to get larger. With the larger display of the iPad, developers need higher resolution graphics to occupy all the pixels. They can’t just double the size of everything though, as that would look bad (and run slow) on the iPhone. So they need to provide two versions of most resources in their app. One the standard iPhone size, and one twice as big (4x the pixels, 4x the MB) as the iPhone version.

If the majority of an app’s size is imagery (which is often the case), this could mean the app is now up to 5x the size of the pure iPhone version. Actual sizes will be a bit less, but even 2x an 8MB app now means your app can’t be downloaded over 3G. And if a customer doesn’t own an iPad, it’s a lot of wasted bandwidth.

Secondly, as a developer, how am I getting paid for this extra effort, porting to the iPad? Some kind of in app purchase thing could theoretically be set up, but customers aren’t going to like that. I don’t really see that as an option. So it’s potentially a lot of work, that we pretty much have to do, for no extra revenue.

Personally, not getting paid for it may not be an issue. I fully expected Chopper 2 to run on a tablet, and have been planning for it since I started last year. With Chopper 1, I may just make the buttons smaller and call it an iPad version. Not sure yet, but perhaps it’s not a big deal.

But, I can definitely see how it could be a big deal for others. With a little foresight, 3D games are easy to port, but some applications are going to require some serious redesigns and graphical overhauls. And all this for zero devices on day one, and zero extra revenue? I’m not sure everyone will be jumping at the opportunity.

But overall, it’s awesome, I’m stoked. This is a device that will be sticking around for a long while yet, and I feel privileged to be able to offer my software on it.