A day with the Jester

Jester_imgI just finished one of the most interesting software development projects ever this week. After responding to a note posted to the Atlanta iPhone Developer Meetup group I ended up trading emails with JD Howard, author of the Naughty Jester blog. JD wanted an iPhone app to help connect with his readers, but he didn’t have a big budget and he didn’t have a lot of time. He wanted to “drive down and knock an app out” in a day or so.

Never one to pass up a challenge, I told him to come on down. I was careful to set his expectations as low as possible, because one day really isn’t enough time to do a meaningful application. All I could promise was that at the end we would have something to submit to the iTunes App Store, and he was OK with that.

So at approximately 3:00 PM on Monday (Memorial Day), JD pulled up to my house in Columbia, SC. The trip took him 5 hours, instead of the 3 that he had originally thought. After a brief meet & greet (plus various social networking connections, which I guess are the modern equivalent of calling cards), we sat down to do a quick mockup of his site.

We used a new tool that I really, really like: Balsamique Markups. It’s a very nice WYSIWYG tool for laying out web pages, applications, and iPhone apps. For OCD perfectionists (which many developers are), I find the cartoony graphics strangely freeing. It really lets me lay out the gist of something without getting sucked into the minutiae of a full design.

We agreed on a basic application that would:

display his blog in a browser control
let the user forward a link to a friend
take the user to a newsletter signup
take the user to feedburner

The one rule of iPhone development is that the things you think will be simple will be hard, and the things you think will be hard will be easy. We had a browser window up and running with his blog in it within 30 minutes. But producing a decent-looking home button image took almost an hour.

Possibly the most interesting part of the project was having someone I’d never met come and crash at my house while developing an application. My mother (who lives with me) was a little leery of the idea at first. “What if he’s an axe murderer?”

After JD and I had been working for a while and I mentioned this to him, he assured her that he was not an axe murderer, which I’m not sure had the desired effect. I put it to her like this “It’s like we’re running a bed & breakfast, with iPhone development on the side.” Hmmmm….

In any case, working with JD was a real pleasure, and we had some interesting conversations over cigars at the end of the day. Now, let’s all keep our fingers crossed that Apple will be kind and merciful and approve the app!

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