iPhone app development

“Finally someone has released a rather fantastic mind reading app that genuinely triggers that “wow – how did you do that?” response.” Phillis, Derren Brown Blog.

“Just got the app. Love it! Thanks!” Lance Burton, Master Magician

When my good friend, the psychologist and writer Richard Wiseman approached me about making a magic trick for the iPhone, I’d never developed a smartphone app before. In fact, I’d never so much as written a line of code in Objective C, Apple’s preferred development software. But the abilities of smartphones to play audio files and show swishy, animated graphics made me curious enough to accept the challenge.

I’ve programmed enough interactive exhibits, for venues such as the Science Museum and London Zoo, to know how to structure a user-friendly app. And I thought I might pick up some skills along the way which I could use to create some musical iPhone apps further down the line. So I went to work on the app in August 2009, slightly wary that I’d signed up for a long autumn of staring at impenetrable manuals and code until my eyes bleed.

The result was this simple mental magic trick Telepath – an app we rolled out under our joint name Curious in November 2009:


Telepath - iphone appAs you can see, Telepath is a cheeky trick – one that’s quick and easy to present. It’s perfect for breaking the ice at a party or in the bar. There are no special gimmicks required to perform the trick – it’s all in the delivery and in a little secret that’s buried in the app itself. Richard designed the trick and I created the audio and graphics as well as programming the software. We spent a lot of time refining the app and the instructions to make it as easy to learn as possible.

Telepath had some lovely reviews from buyers, including one or two magicians. And a few months later, we followed it up with Paranormality, a trick which Richard gave away free to publicise his new book by the same name. With Paranormality, you can convince your friends that they can bend a spoon using the power of their mind:


Easy work?

So how did I find my first foray into iPhone app development? Well, the first app Telepath was a nightmare to deliver  – it certainly did make my eyes bleed. When I was coding the app, the sticking points were a few functions in Objective C which I needed to clean up memory and test certain elements of iPhone functionality, for instance the availability of a wifi link. But I found the bundling and submission of the app to be a much worse headache. The notes from Apple on how to submit an app were laughably patchy – reading them was like leafing through the arcane rulebook of a secretive club. Still, both our magic tricks were accepted first time into the app store, just a few days after I’d submitted them for review (a good track record, I’m told, so I must have been doing something right).

I’m now brimming with ideas for further apps of my own – ones which play dynamically with sound. But I have a keen idea of how many weeks of time it takes to develop an app when I’m working solo. I’m researching a book this year so I can’t eek out the necessary time to throw myself into another month or two of Objective C.

Maybe next year…