In this edition of the UMS Podcast I talk with Robert Tolar Haining (@tolar & kindofawesome.com). Robert is a professional software developer whose interest in product development has blurred the lines of his job description. Currently working in the field of iPhone+iPad development at Condé Nast Digital, where he’s just developed his second digital magazine, Vanity Fair. Robert has developed iPhone apps such as for Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List, GQ Magazine, Wired Product Reviews, & Postcard by Concierge.com
Gene Crawford: I’m here with Robert Tolar Haining, who is the iPhone, iPad developer. He’s the lead developer for Conde Nast digital.
Robert Tolar Haining: Yep.
Gene: Yep. And if you’re not familiar with the mother-ship, Conde Nast, they do the magazine Wired. You’ve particularly worked on the Epicurious app, which has been featured on lots of iPhone commercials. Which has got to make you happy.
Robert: Yeah, it’s always that proud moment when you’re watching Heroes and suddenly there’s Epicurious, something you’ve been working on, being seen by millions of people.
Gene: That’s got to be awesome.
Robert: It does wonders for the download numbers as well.
Gene: I’m sure. So, in that vein, what is it that you do for Conde Nast, particularly?
Robert: So, I’m the lead iPhone/iPad developer at Conde Nast digital. The digital arm of the publication company. And currently I’m leading a team of eight developers, working on a couple different iPhone/iPad applications for our various properties.
Gene: That’s cool. In particular, what was the most recent one that you guys just rolled out?
Robert: We just launched Vanity Fair, which was our second magazine that we’ve rolled out on this platform. That was launched in May, but the way that the magazines work, it was actually the June issue that was launched. But in May. Now we’ve launched the second issue, so you can get July on there now.
Gene: Tell me about this platform a little bit. You say it’s a magazine platform, but… What are you talking about when you say it’s an iPhone/iPad magazine platform?
Robert: I use the platform loosely. We started out, a little bit less than a year ago, we started talking about putting magazines on the iPhone. At that point there was no iPad. There were rumors. But nothing else. So, in November of last year we released a single issue of GQ on the iPhone. And a few months later we released a version of it that allowed you to buy any issue you want within the app. When the iPad came out we iterated on that and created the iPad version. Then with Vanity Fair, it just kind of expanded the scope a little bit, and allowed us to fork in different content. So rather than looking at GQ content, you’re looking at Vanity Fair. The app is slightly different, it’s got its own nuances but it ends up being a configuration kind of thing in terms of differentiating the two apps.
Gene: I got you. So you started off with the iPhone, and everything was sort of geared for that platform. What did you run into moving that from the iPhone to the iPad?
Robert: The easiest thing to do would have been to leave the iPhone app as it was two times on the iPad.
Gene: That’s not…
Robert: That’s not good enough. So, with our design team and our product team, we got together and figured out what would be a good extension of what we had done, and what we had learned from the iPhone, and put it on the iPad. And to give you context, we had a very short period of time to do that. When we learned on January 27th that the iPad was coming, and wanted to have something live by the time it was released at the end of March, early April.
Gene: Right, so how did you do that, how did you get it out on time? You didn’t have a super-secret iPad or anything, I mean, how did you…?
Robert: No, we have a simulator on the desktop that lets us see what it’s going to look like, and fortunately since the iPad is such a fast device and is so powerful, we’re able with our knowledge of the iPhone and its shortcomings in terms of CPU and memory and stuff, we’re able to adequately predict how the iPad would function.
Gene: I know you were at Apple’s developer conference, where they announced the iPhone 4, because I was following your Twitter stream and really appreciate that, it really helped.
Robert: Got it here.
Gene: You can all be jealous.
Robert: I stood in line for seven hours.
Gene: Yeah, I’ve seen some pictures of the long lines, it’s pretty cool. So what are you guys doing to take advantage of some of the new…? Obviously the retina display is kind of a no-brainer. But do you have anything in the works to kind of…?
Robert: We haven’t really gone down the path yet. A lot of what we do can’t really take advantage of multi-tasking, which is a big feature of iOS 4. With the retina display everything… With the exception of some graphics, a lot of it comes free. I was reading GQ on the iPhone four today, and the text is just so crisp and beautiful. So I think there are some things there where we could, using higher res graphics. Since we’re not a music service or a VoIP application or something, I don’t know if we’ll go down the multi-tasking path.
Gene: The nicer photos have to be enough to really make it sweet.
Robert: Yeah, definitely.
Gene: Well thank you, appreciate it.