Local developer 'overwhelmed' at Macworld

Over 300,000 downloads of Polar Bear Farm's iPhone application

Christchurch-based Polar Bear Farm, a software development company specialising in developing native applications for the iPhone, has had over 300,000 downloads of one of its applications since it was released in October last year.

Right from the start, when the iPhone was announced, Polar Bear Farm founder Layton Duncan thought the device had the potential to be a massive future platform. And when he got his hands on one in August last year he was convinced.

He noticed that developers had reverse-engineered some of the frameworks and that there were tools to build applications for the iPhone. Duncan, an electrical engineer, had done OS 10 programming before, and thought he would give it a go, he says.

Duncan wrote his first iPhone application, Search, because he got fed up scrolling through his contact list, looking for the person he wanted to call. Some people have hundreds or even thousands of contacts, he says. The application allows users to search their contacts based on names, company, position, department, or any other notes on the contacts.

Users can then tap on the phone number to dial it, or on the email address to send an email. The Search application can also be used to search calendar events, based on event summary, location or description, he says.

“Say that you have made an appointment for the dentist some time ago but you don’t know when it is,” he says. “You basically would have to scroll through the whole calendar to find out when it is.”

The search application, which has been downloaded well over 300,000 times so far, is especially popular among business users, says Duncan.

Duncan has also built a video recording application, which lets users record and store video on the device. The capture rate is six frames per second, at a 320 x 427 resolution. This application, called ShowTime, is still under development, he says. At this stage, video is not captured in any standard compressed video format. Duncan is working to add a post-process option, so the uncompressed captured video can be converted into a standard video format.

Polar Bear Farm released the Search application in the end of October and, when Duncan saw the response it got, he decided to go to the US and exhibit at Macworld, held in San Francisco in mid-January.

“I thought: ‘We might as well make a real business out of this’,” he says.

Duncan, his business partner, who works half-time, and a friend travelled to San Francisco, feeling very positive about being one of the first companies to offer software for the iPhone, and thinking the Macworld experience would be interesting, he says.

“But we kind of underestimated it,” he says. “There was a lot more interest than we thought.”

“We were overwhelmed. It was basically non-stop business for four days,” says Duncan. No one else at Macworld was exhibiting iPhone-related software, he says.

The company also signed a number of application development contracts at the expo. The level of interest in development of custom applications was quite unexpected, says Duncan. Enquiries came from smaller companies right through to large hardware manufacturers, he says.

Duncan also runs a more general software consulting business.

Polar Bear Farm is eagerly waiting for Apple to give the official go-ahead to third-party developers, by announcing third-party development tools for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The SDK (software development kit) is currently slated for the end of February. Until Apple gets the SDK out, the applications will only work on a “jailbroken” or hacked iPhone.

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