Developers of iPad applications race to meet April 3 debut

Developer Todd Moore of Sterling is working on new versions of applications, already out for the iPhone and iPod Touch, for the iPad.
Developer Todd Moore of Sterling is working on new versions of applications, already out for the iPhone and iPod Touch, for the iPad. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010

Last week was an intense one for some of the Washington area software developers who make and sell software for Apple's App Store.

After all, Apple's latest and much-hyped product -- the slate-shaped iPad -- is almost here, and many are hoping that the device's release April 3 will bring a fresh wave of customers and purchases. To help encourage those download dollars, many have been working overtime to create and polish new versions of their wares.

"I feel like I'm back in college, preparing for a big test and working around the clock," said Todd Moore, a Sterling-based programmer who was nearing the end of a Red Bull- and soda-fueled work crunch as he designed a new version of his popular sleep aid application, White Noise.

Same for Keith Shepherd, of the D.C.-based game company Imangi Studios, who was finishing up a new iPad release of his firm's popular game Harbor Master. Shepherd submitted the new version to Apple on Friday, just beating the tech company's Saturday deadline for apps that will be available for sale when the device launches. "It's been a really busy week for us," he said.

Many such developers consider a prompt appearance in the new iPad section of Apple's online store to be crucial for building loyalty and name recognition.

"You've got to be there in front of the early users," said Chris Sloop, chief technology officer of Germantown-based Weatherbug, which makes weather forecasting software and has submitted an iPad version of its product to Apple for approval. "If you get your app out a few months later, there's not going to be as much buzz."

There has long been a "gold rush" mentality in the app market, said Rana Sobhany, a marketing analyst and the author of a coming book about selling products on the App Store. But most products don't end up being terribly lucrative for their creators, she said. About 75 percent of downloads from the App Store's library of 150,000 items are for free content.

"It's not realistic to think every app is going to sell," she said. If you're an independent developer without a marketing budget, "there's a 99 percent chance you're not going to sell that many copies."

Certainly, not everyone making the plunge into this new market is seeing a return on their investment. Inspired by App Store success stories, Charlottesville resident Nate Macpherson assembled a team of programmers and artists to build a game, released in November, called Shot Bar. His total investment: $30,000. Total return, to date: "Under a thousand dollars." Macpherson has no plans for a revamped iPad version of the title.

Apple has said that all of the software applications available for the iPhone and iPod Touch will also work on the iPad, which costs from $499 to $829, not including a wireless access fee for an optional connection, available on some models, to AT&T's network.

But the new device's larger screen size will give developers a fresh set of options for what their products can do. Weatherbug's iPad app, for example, will feature more icons on the screen for users who want a deeper look at upcoming forecasts. Moore's new software, called White Noise Pro, will give users new ways to mix the program's collection of soothing sound effects.

Some products still just make more sense on a pocket-size smartphone, however, and so not every App Store entrepreneur is rushing to get a new version of his software onto the iPad.

"I am sort of taking a wait-and-see approach," said John Bednarz, the programmer behind an application called Find a Metro DC that is designed to help local mass-transit users. RideCharge, the Alexandria-based creator of an online taxi-hailing app for the iPhone, also said that it hadn't settled on how it would take advantage of the iPad's larger screen in future versions of its software.

For a device that nobody owns yet, the iPad has been the source of an unusual amount of speculation, even for an Apple product. While some analysts have derided the thing as little more than a super-sized iPhone, elsewhere it's hailed as a savior of the publishing industry.

However the iPad's fortunes play out, the iPhone and iPod Touch will still have the numbers advantage for some time to come, observed Barg Upender, founder of the Washington-based app firm Mobomo. According to Apple, there are almost 80 million of those devices in use.

Relatively speaking, in other words, even if Mobomo's new iPad version of its puzzle game HexOut is a hit, he said, "at the end of the day, revenue-wise, it's going to be a little blip."

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