I sent two developers, Jonathan Spooner and Brian Levine, to the Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon to hack at the Mashery booth yesterday. I wanted them to spend time networking, writing some code and having fun. I sent them a few text messages of encouragement last night as they worked for 20 hours straight creating an app.
I woke up this morning and watched their presentation live on ustream. They'd created an iPhone app for runners to use to play a virtual game of pacman. Runners have to avoid virtual ghosts and eat virtual power pellets while running in the real world.
During the demo, Jonathan ran around the building with the app running on his phone, and Brian narrated it. I thought they did a great job. And so did the judges! We won the "Best Demo" award, which is analagous to a podium finish!
We launched our iPhone app last week and it was greeted with less than stellar reviews. One reviewer complained of bugs, another about the lack of saving tab order, another about sluggishness. I wanted to explain the non-traditional approach we took when developing this app and what we're doing to improve the experience for those less-than-satisfied customers.
We wrote the first version of ActiveReader against a beta release of Titanium--0.8.3. Development of Titanium itself was happening very rapidly and new SDKs were being released every few weeks. Documentation was okay, but they had a thriving community which the developers participated in regularly. If you had a problem you could usually get it answered within a couple of hours. However lots of functionality was still missing from the API, and bugs were being found on a daily basis.
So, what have we done to get the app more stable? We were able to migrate the app from the 0.8.3 framework to the 1.0.0 framework over the past week and it is currently being reviewed by Apple to be added to the app store. We expect that to happen early next week at the latest. The loading times for the app are orders of magnitude faster. Previously you would be staring at the splash page for 10 seconds or more while waiting for articles to come down from the cloud. Now the loading screen is up for 1-2 seconds and you see a list of articles immediately. Viewing an article is faster as well.
We also removed offline access to articles for the time being. This is another of the major performance problems with the current version and we want to revisit the database storage issue in-depth. We felt that lack of offline access wasn't a deal-killer to getting this new version out the door in the hopes that it addresses most people's concerns.
It may turn out in the end that Titanium just won't fit our needs as a rapid iPhone application development environment. The Light Engineering Group's mission is to find new technologies that help us get to the market faster than ever and we hoped Titanium would be another way to do this. While it's true that we are able to develop apps quickly, it may not be worth the tradeoff of stability and lack of support. We may end up going back to the drawing board and instead build the app out from scratch using the good old fashioned tools that Apple intended for us to use in the first place. Time will tell!
We appreciate everyone that's downloaded the app so far and given great feedback on Facebook and Twitter. We won't leave you guys hanging -- we'll get you a great reader one way or another!
Active just officially released our first iPhone app—ActiveReader. This app lets you read all the articles from Active.com in a mobile-friendly format. It also stores those articles on the phone itself so you can still read them, even if you're offline. Articles are organized by activity like running, cycling, baseball, or you can search our site for articles.
This is only the first of many new mobile apps you'll be seeing from us. Stay tuned!
I'm looking for an iPhone developer to help us step up our presence in the Apple App store and on iPhone mobile devices. I need somebody who can come up with a compelling visual design and make use of our APIs available at http://developer.active.com/docs/ to build this application. If you are or know of a good iPhone app developer, send me an email, jeremy dot thomas at active dot com.