Local iPhone development takes off

Huge opportunity for New Zealand developers, says Aim Proximity CEO

Auckland marketing agency Aim Proximity sees huge potential in the local iPhone application market — so much that it has employed a dedicated iPhone application developer to get a headstart in this space.

And the man on the job is IT veteran Peter Watling, who works remotely from Christchurch. He’s been writing software for Macs for over 20 years and started his IT industry career “before it was even called the IT industry”, he says.

For the last 12 years, Watling has worked for Metservice, developing software for its time-sensitive data applications — initially, weather applications, but this has since expanded to include television listings, and financial and sports listings.

When the iPhone was launched 18 months ago, it was a “natural step” for Watling to start developing applications for it, he says. His “top application” so far is the free game Bubblewrap, which has had 1.5 million downloads and is still being downloaded at a rate of around 10,000 a day. It features some advertising, which is ticking away nicely as a secondary income, says Watling.

He has also built a TV guide application and a weather application for the local market. His latest app is a Christchurch specific location-awareness program for finding out how far away the nearest bus stop is — and how long you may have to wait for the next bus. The application uses GPS information gleaned from the buses themselves, says Watling.

One of the first programs Watling created for Aim Proximity’s clients was an application for Te Papa’s multimedia exhibition Our Space. The application lets users play around with Kiwi icons, take pictures of themselves and send the results to friends.

Watling’s motivation for building applications is usually that it is something he would like for himself. He often “dreams things up”. “I think: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’. I like cool things and [now] I get to make them,” he says.

To Watling, a good program is elegant, useful and fun to use. You shouldn’t have to hunt for information. With a good iPhone application, everything should be just a few taps away, he says.

He likes writing programs that have “unexpected features” — perhaps something the user discovers a bit later on that is a surprise and, hopefully, raises a smile, he says.

Earlier this month, Apple’s iPhone 3G became the top-selling mobile handset in the US, surpassing Motorola’s Razr, which has held the top spot for the past year.

The local market is likely to follow the same iPhone trend, says Darryn Melrose, chief executive of Aim Proximity. Melrose sees a huge opportunity in the iPhone application space for New Zealand developers, which will allow them to participate in a global market.

New Zealand has an entrepreneurial culture, and with the iTunes-based distribution model it doesn’t matter where in the world you create your applications, he says.

The iPhone is the first smartphone that really “feels like a PC”, says Melrose.

Aim Proximity isn’t the only agency employing in-house iPhone application developers. For example, Auckland multimedia studio Cactuslab has two iPhone application developers on its staff.

“We’re very interested to see where the iPhone gig goes in New Zealand,” says company director Karl von Randow.

Local iPhone apps on US Top 100 list

Besides Watling’s Bubblewrap, other locally developed applications that have had success worldwide, and in particular in the US market, include Karl von Randow’s Mobile Fotos, which allows users to browse and upload photos to Flickr; David Frampton’s game Chopper; John Ballinger’s Heart Monitor, which uses the iPhone’s in-built microphone to detect your heart rate; and the Record application and Duck Shoot game from Polar Bear Farm.

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