I’m happy to introduce what I hope will be a recurring series here at Tablet Legal: Developer Interviews. I’m reaching out to developers of applications for the legal industry to see what they think of the iPad, how they are developing for the new device and what we might be able to expect once the iPad is released. To start us off, I contacted Cliff Maier to discuss his thoughts about the iPad. Cliff is the mind behind Waffle Turtle, developer for nearly 40 legal related applications. Cliff’s work has been covered well over at iPhone J.D. (where he has even been found to respond to user questions in the comments!).
My background is as an engineer. I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and spent the first decade of my career as a microprocessor designer for companies like Sun and AMD.
As part of that, I picked up programming, and toward the end of my career most of my time was spent writing code – at AMD I was responsible for much of the software they used to do chip designs, and I wrote a lot of it myself. I went to law school while still working at AMD, and when I graduated I found that almost all of the software for lawyers was absolute garbage, so I started writing software for my own use. When I first saw the iPhone, I realized it was going to revolutionize the computing industry, and I immediately signed up as a developer (I was one of the initial round of third-party developers). I started by writing software I wanted to use myself, and there we are.
I started with apps I wanted myself – a lot of the I.P. law and Federal practice stuff. Then I took polite requests. That’s pretty much still how I operate, with the understanding that there are too many apps for me to constantly be updating them as statutes change – so I take requests there, too, updating what I can as often as I can.
It’s a far more capable of device, and much more is possible with it. The question is whether the form factor is such that it will lose the iPhone’s chief advantage – it’s always in your pocket. As a developer, it’s not much different than coding for iPhone, but you need to rethink the entire user experience.
TL: Do you think the user experience needs for lawyers is different from that of other types of users? Put another way, what types of interface considerations do you have when building more of a “working” app as opposed to a “leisure” app?
Well, depends on what type of users you compare to, I suppose. I think my approach is colored by my experience writing code for engineers. I want to minimize the physical and mental effort involved in doing things, make features easily discoverable, etc. I also think like an engineer, so to me statutes and rules are outlines, not a series of pages. This colors everything about my approach. I also try to “fit in” with the platform – on iPad it’s not quite clear yet what the design aesthetic is, since we’ve seen only a few app demos.
Q: Have you downloaded the SDK?
Sure have! And I’ve been coding like a mad man, trying things out, and working with different potential user interfaces. This is a quick screen grab from a potential approach I’ve been working with:
TL: What are the major advantages you see to developing for the iPad platform? Disadvantages? New challenges or opportunities?
The primary advantage is screen real estate. This allows much more flexibility in what can be done. Until I have an actual iPad in hand, though, I won’t know for sure what else is different.
TL: Any thoughts about how any of your apps might change for the iPad platform?
I’m thinking of using a single reader app for all the content, though I’m not sure that will work yet.
Sort of like buying a “library” instead of a particular book. What else are you looking at?
I’m also playing around with completely new user interfaces and a completely different way of interacting with content – my apps have always differed from other law-text apps in that while others tend to treat the content as pages in a book, I tend to treat the content as an outline which can be collapsed and expanded. On the iPad, with its much bigger viewing portal, I’m exploring ways to extend the metaphor further.
I think one major question is whether developers will sell combined apps that run on both iPad and iPhone, or whether the differences in user interface, functionality, etc. be so great that developers will fork their development and have separate apps for each platform. While it is possible to write one app that runs on both platforms, is it worth having double the code, bloating the apps, etc.? So far I’m leaning toward having different apps on each platform, but I’m still exploring and waiting to see what the community thinks – I hate to make people pay for yet another version, but I don’t think there’s a heck of a lot of value in just scaling iPhone apps up to fit the iPad screen.
Absolutely. I would love if Apple would provide some sort of “upgrade” pricing feature. I’d be happy to give iPad versions for free to everyone who has an iPhone version of my apps. Apple has been fairly inflexible in allowing this sort of thing, and developers don’t even have anyway to know who has purchased our apps. I’m thinking about what can be done, but I don’t have any clear answers yet.
I’d like to have at least one or two ready, but I don’t think I would release anything until I have a device in hand. As I mentioned, I need to see what the “look and feel” of all the built-in apps is so that I can fit it, and I need to check my performance and track down any bugs that may not turn up in the simulator. I think it would be irresponsible to release an app without testing it on a device.
The top-of-the-line 3G model I may need to get a wi-fi model, too, to have one for testing so I can release apps sooner.
Thanks to Cliff for doing this. You can find all his apps in the App Store (iTunes link).
Update (02/26/2010): I see that Jeff over at iPhone J.D. also did a great interview with Cliff back in late 2008. Tons of great details – check it out!.