iPhone Life magazine

TED's iPad App:

Q&A with app developer Matt Drance

MattWBabyThe TED iPad project was inspired by a number of requests from TED fans wishing to view TEDTalks on their mobile devices. In the past, the development community has graciously volunteered to build various TED-related applications for both the iPhone and Android platforms.

TedAppWhen the iPad came out, we recognized that its larger screen would provide a better experience for mobile users wishing to view TEDTalks. We were also excited about the iPad's ability to store content, allowing users to view it offline. Ojingo Labs assisted us in the preliminary design stages and Matt Drance from Bookhouse Software helped us with the final development and delivery of the new iPad app (TED, free, app2.me/3154; iPhone version, app2.me/3241). Matt took some time off from his busy day of coding to share with us thoughts on the project from behind the scenes.

Matt Drance with a future app developer

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I grew up on Long Island, and I've been professionally involved in software development since I moved to California in 1999 and have spent most of my time since then at Apple. I was the Application Frameworks Evangelist while the iPhone SDK was initially rolled out, which was obviously a tremendous learning opportunity. Day in and day out, I helped companies build the first few generations of iPhone apps until I decided to go off on my own and try life on the other side of the fence.

I think the decision to go independent has certainly been a shining moment for me. I loved every moment of my time at Apple, and I wouldn't be where I am today without it. But everyone dreams of doing their own thing. I did it, and the journey has been incredibly rewarding. The TED project has definitely been a highlight, and I'm sure it will continue to be for a long time.

Q: What feature are you most excited about with this app?

A: I'm really excited about the playlist browser, which you can find in the Inspire Me section or by tapping the info button when you're watching a saved talk. It gives you some insight on what you're about to watch before you watch it, and it's just cool to play with. Thaniya Keereepart from TED came up with this great idea, and it was a lot of fun to bring that to life.

Q: What feature do you think will be a favorite‚Ä©among TED fans?

A: My money is on Saved Talks. The ability to hold onto some videos for offline viewing when you're on a plane or train, or otherwise offline, is awesome. You can get quite a few hours queued up. I also think people will like discovering new content through the Inspire Me feature. I know I had a ton of eye-opening experiences while building and testing it. I never thought I'd learn so much staring at my iPad for hours at a time!

Q: What were a few of the tools that you used,‚Ä© and would you like to give some shout-outs?

A: Of course, I used the standard SDK: Xcode, Interface Builder, Instruments, Pixie, etc. We used Git for source control, and it was a real joy to use. (At least, it was as much of a "joy" as source control can be.) For graphics work, I used Photoshop and a great, inexpensive Mac tool called Opacity.

I also think Apple's Preview app is really underrated for rapid cuts and crops, and for inspecting the app's appearance. I take screenshots of the iPhone Simulator with the control key held down, which puts the image on the clipboard. Then I fire up Preview, hit Cmd-N to create a new image containing the screenshot and take a close look at the elements on screen, including their alignment, their distance from the edges, their color values, and more. When I'm done, I just close the window without saving, and I don't have to chase down or delete any files. You can get a lot done in Preview, and it launches in about a second.

I definitely need to thank my old friend Ken Hill for introducing me to TED and kicking all this off. Mark Bogdanoff and Thaniya at TED were amazing to work with throughout the project.

Q: What would be a radical idea for TED to adopt on the mobile platform moving forward?

A: I'd really like to see something that provided TED content related to current events or headlines. A lot of the topics discussed at TED are timely, if not ahead of their time. Jeff Han's multi-touch demo from 2006, a full year before the iPhone was introduced, is a great technology example. There are plenty in the social and political spheres as well. It's more an editorial challenge than a technical one, but it would be a great way for people to discover the amazing breadth of talks that TED has made available.

Along the same lines, I think there's enough content at this point to provide some location awareness. You could point users to talks about issues in the user's area, or maybe just a great talk by a person who lives, works, or grew up nearby. It's a way of inspiring people to step up and do something great by showing them something close to home.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design)

TED is a small, nonprofit organization devoted to "ideas worth spreading." It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since then, it has grown into a global set of conferences that are recorded and offered as "TedTalks." Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners. TedTalks are available for free on the TED website (ted.com), YouTube, and iTunes. The new TED app for the iPad lets you view the talks wherever you are.