Apple's app accelerator, which was first announced by Tim Cook in 2016, has now been active in India for around a year. Any registered Apple developer can apply to the accelerator via its website, and either take part in one to many sessions, deep dive labs on specialised subjects, or one-on-one consultations with Apple's experts. The company is famously tight-lipped, and wouldn't share details on how many developers have passed through its doors, merely saying that it has helped thousands of developers create applications over the course of the last 12 months.
One of the standouts from this experience is Froggipedia, an educational app that makes use of Apple's ARKit, and the pressure sensitive Apple Pencil to deliver an app that lets students peer inside a virtual frog placed on their tables, pore over it from all angles, and even dissect it. Froggipedia was one of the apps showcased in the keynote at Apple's education-focussed March event, where it launched a new iPad.
In an earlier interview with Gadgets 360, Apple's Senior Vice President Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller had said that the accelerator would provide developers with "unique Apple expertise”. What this means is things like user interface design, ease of use, and of course, deeper integrations with Apple's hardware.
ARKit is one of the areas where the app accelerator has had a role to play, and eight developers from Designmate - the 30-year old software company that's behind Froggipedia - spent two weeks working at the app accelerator to get their app fully ready for the keynote. Funnily enough, Apple updated ARKit and so the developers had to scramble at the last minute to update the app to make full use of Apple's latest changes.
Despite some last minute rush, Captain KJ Brar, the CEO of Designmate says the experience was really beneficial for his team. "Apple gave us a lot of help with the UI design, and integrating with ARKit," he says, adding, "and they also helped us to make full use of the Pencil, harnessing the pressure sensitivity, and Unity."
What's more, the team was given access to Apple's experts from around the world, and according to Brar, much of the feedback was coming from teams in the US office. "We came up with version one and they really polished the idea, really made a huge impact on the design, the user experience."
User experience was a common thread that other developers we spoke to at the accelerator also brought up. Rama Krishna, the CEO of Fluid Touch, a company based in Hyderabad that makes only iOS apps also stressed this point while talking about his newest application, Noteshelf 2. Using the app, we were impressed by how smoothly it worked for note taking, and Rama explained that it required work at the GPU level to create what he says is one of the fastest note taking apps available.
The app uses natural gestures such as swiping in from the edge of the screen to add a page to your notebook, and Rama explains that with a developer-heavy team at Fluidtouch, things like user experience needed work. "My own designs were horrible, and we have someone who does UI, but UX especially, the accelerator really helped us with," he says. "Also with the OS, fitting in to the ecosystem, they helped a lot."
For Rama, this involved three visits to the accelerator, but since he's based in Hyderabad, he gathered more feedback from phone calls which would last one to two hours, and lots of emails, apart from the focused consultations at the accelerator.
Interestingly, while developers had earlier told Gadgets 360 that Apple stressed on focusing on the audience in India, for both Designmate and Fluid Touch, the intended audience is clearly global. Froggipedia will find use in more iPad-equipped classrooms in the US than in India, and Rama says that most of his customers are not from India, since the market here is still small. The apps don't solve any local concern or need, but a more universal one, and this seems to be fine by Apple, which offered a lot of feedback to the companies.
It's also not restricting itself to high-profile developers either - Apple wants to work with anyone who applies, provided the developer brings in the idea for the app - and one of these developers is 10-year-old Ashwat Prasanna, who taught himself to code by watching YouTube videos. His app Quickvert is a pretty simple application that quickly converts physical units such as temperature, length, volume, and so on. For Prasanna, the app accelerator team helped with a single session to debug and test his code, and also made changes to the interface, he says, before bursting out: "I love this office, it's my favourite place ever!"
One piece of feedback we received from developers is that Apple doesn't do enough to help their apps get noticed, even if they spend the time and money to travel to Bengaluru and polish their apps to meet Apple's vision. Although Apple didn't directly respond to this, the company will hold sessions this summer on business models and marketing at the accelerator in conjunction with the App Store, so even if Apple isn't talking about this, it seems to be listening.