There's an App for That
The Apple iPad is a huge win for mobile video. Using a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, viewers can get a personalized big-screen viewing experience whenever and wherever they like. The days of postage stamp-sized windows on first-generation feature phones are just a bad memory.
The iPad's video options are still growing, however, and there's a lot of untapped potential to stream great content. The magazine and newspaper industries were especially quick to see the iPad's promise, with many offering mobile versions as soon as they possibly could. The reaction from the streaming video world wasn't quite as swift, but there are still several excellent apps for viewing video. In this article, we look at four of the best and show how they came to be.
Great apps can come from surprising places, and they don't all have a team of talented execs and coders behind them. TWiT touch, which delivers video and audio for programs on the This Week in Tech (TWiT) network of shows, was created solely by Ben Deming when he was a high school senior in Tennessee.
Now, Deming isn't on staff with TWiT, he wasn't asked to create the app, and he has never even met Leo Laporte. When he created TWiT touch, the TWiT network already had an official iPad app (called TWiT).
"I was using the official one, and I wasn't too pleased with it," Deming says. "It seemed more like a blown-up iPhone version."
The official TWiT app had a quirky design that Deming didn't care for, and it crashed occasionally. It also lacked some of the functionality found in the TWiT iPhone app, such as on-demand audio and video.
Deming saw the need for a better iPad experience and decided to create his own app. Before doing so, he reached out to TWiT's then-vice president of engineering, Colleen Kelly, for permission. She was completely supportive of the project and told Deming that anyone in the TWiT community could create a related app. Encouraged by her response, he went to work.
Deming was 18 years old and was entirely self-taught when it came to app creation, and the TWiT app was only his second effort. Prior to that, he created Formul8, an iPhone app for accessing math, calculus, chemistry, and physics formulas. His high school, he says, didn't offer much in the way of computer programming, so he had to learn on his own.
"The intellectual level around here, being in the South, those kinds of opportunities don't really present themselves. You have to go out on your own and do your research," Deming says.
The resources in Apple's iPad software development kit helped Deming out. His first step was to use the included interface builder to design mock-ups of how he wanted the app to look. He was able to turn those mock-ups into a working demo with little effort.
"You can pretty much not touch code and have a working interface," Deming says.
To include the live and on-demand TWiT programming in his app, Deming simply needed the URLs for the various streams. That was actually one of the easier steps in creating the app. All he needed were three lines of code per stream. His completed app contains the links for the roughly 20 TWiT network shows. He launched with audio streams only but soon added video. Viewers can watch live or on-demand content and can chat in real time with other viewers.
Creating the app took Deming about 3 weeks, working no more than 4 hours per day. The TWiT community has been encouraging, pointing out a few bugs and things he could improve on-suggestions he used in minor revisions.
While Deming is reluctant to talk money, he says that TWiT didn't ask for any of the profits from his 99-cent app (it's serving ads off the streams, after all) and that his income has been in the low thousands. That's not bad for a homemade app with no promotion behind it.
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Sure, there's an app for that, but is that a good thing? When it comes to online video, the author finds that apps often bring more hassles, not fewer.