April 5, 2010

Robot 1-X

Six weeks ago Apple announced the iPad, a portable touch screen computer. It runs the same operating system and application software as the tremendously successful iPhone and iPod Touch devices, but it has a larger screen and faster processor. A lot of geeks panned it as just a big iPod Touch. Sure, an iPad is just a big iPod Touch in the same way a swimming pool is just a big bathtub.

The geeks didn't get it. I got it, but that's because I had actually used one. This device doesn't do everything a geek would want to do with a computer, but it does everything a non-geek would want to do on a computer. And it does so in an easily understandable way, without software installation/configuration headaches, viruses, malware, etc. In other words, it's not targeted at the geeks, it's targeted at everyone except the geeks.

I love my new toy

Work has been ridiculously busy the last six weeks. I've been laboring, around the clock at times, to enhance my company's iPhone app (WolframAlpha) to work as well as possible on an iPad. About halfway through that time we hired another employee to help with this project (and future projects). It was a little slow at first, as I had to spend some valuable time actually training the new guy. By the end he was working productively and actually made significant contributions to the project. We ended up with an app that works pretty well.

WolframAlpha on iPad

When the app was initially launched last October it was priced at a premium, $50. I only found out about this price literally minutes before the app went on sale. I was a bit upset. I figured nobody would buy it and all my hard work would have been wasted. I was wrong. It sold remarkably well (close to 10,000 copies), which completely blew away my meager expectations. It was a lot, and the company made money on the app, but the app wasn't serving the exact purpose they wanted.

A few days ago the company announced a radical shift in the direction of the project. Instead of making money on the app directly they wanted to get more people using the service. Presumably they're making money somewhere else. I don't know about these things, I just write the code. Anyway, as of a few days ago the new price of the app is $2. It runs on both iPhones and iPads. Within hours of the announcement (humorously made on April 1st), the WolframAlpha iPhone app became the top selling application in the entire iTunes app store. A few hours later it became the top grossing app (total money earned) in the iTunes app store. It stayed at the top of the charts for a couple days. As of right now it's still near the top, at #12. In other words, the response has been incredible.

On top of the tremendous success of the WolframAlpha app, I was somewhat involved in another side project. My boss, Theodore Gray, collects chemical element samples, photographs them, and writes books about them. Theo saw the potential of the iPad as the killer electronic book platform and put a huge effort into making a really amazing eBook: The Elements. The text and photos are largely the same as the printed edition of the book, but the images are not static, they are interactive, animated, and rotatable with the touch of a finger. It's hard to describe, you really just have to see it.

Anyway, in addition to giving advice and answering technical questions, I worked to create an embedded version of the WolframAlpha app that pops up from within The Elements app.

It would be nice if that was the end of the story, but there is still much work to do, features to add, problems to fix. Hopefully the hours will be a little more sensible for the foreseeable future.

Robot 1-X is a character from Futurama. It is the new model of robot that immediately made all other robots obsolete.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice job... I so happy you take after your mother!