Movie Reviews? There’s an app for that!


Today marks the release of my latest iPhone application, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (Direct AppStore Link) by mobileAge. Since I have been bad about blogging recently, I felt it was a good time to put together a post detailing it’s creation.

Since the release of mobileAge’s last major update to Wine Enthusiast Guide it was time to start up our the next project, a iPhone application combination of Leonard Maltin’s 2010 Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide. MobileAge’s sister company Landware has actually produced mobile versions of the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide book series in the past, so we still had rights to the content.  The two guides combined is over 2300 pages, so it is no easy feat to do it right and keep the iPhone application under the 10MB ceiling that ensures wireless over the air download.

The first working prototypes were put together during my flights to/from Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference back in June. Thanks to WWDC we were able to learn how to properly leverage some new iPhone OS 3.0 features like Core Data and the new unified UISearchDisplayController. I will write a technical post at another date with some things that I learned while developing this application.

The design of the application took many forms over time, as you can see below in this picture of one of the earliest builds.  We intially wanted to color it similar to the 2009 book cover, as the 2010 cover wasn’t finalized yet, but it didn’t ever look quite right, as this early draft shows. We also were not entirely sure what content would be first shown at launch.

Sometimes the entire look of one section of the application would change entirely through the course of a day.  This constant iteration we felt helped build us a better product in the end.  After many design iterations since June, this is what the main screen looks like today:

The main screen of the application shows more recent movies that Leonard has reviewed and sent over to us, his “Current Picks” as he calls them. These reviews are a bit more in depth than the rest of the book content, but should give you a good idea if a recently released movie is worth the cost of admission.  This section automatically updates itself once a day “over the air” as new reviews become available. It is a great advantage that having an internet connected device like the iPhone and iPod Touch gives us.

Since we at mobileAge are all heavy Netflix users, we knew from the start we wanted to have some Netflix integration in the application. So after QUITE A BIT of data manipulation we got the Netflix identifiers into our database. We could then tie a movie to it’s Netflix API counter part, thus allowing you to quickly add the movie to your Netflix Disc/Instant Queues after reading Leonard’s thoughts on the movie.

One feature we had in the Wine Enthusiast Guide is custom user lists with remote backups. This was also another “MUST HAVE” feature for the Movie Guide as people love to categorize their movies for many various reasons.  So we ported the feature over to this application, with a few tweaks for Movies of course. It’s a simple feature, that we hope users find many uses for. We start everyone out with two default groups, but they can create and edit these lists to their heart’s content.

We are already working on many more features for future updates, so we hope to continue to build onto this great app and give movie buffs even more power. We are also starting up our next project which we are all very excited about.

Two Years as iPhone Developer


Two years ago today I released my first iPhone application. I had spent the week leading up to it’s release learning how to code on the iPhone OS 1.0 Toolchain and it was my first experience using Cocoa and Objective C.  I didn’t know what to work on, so I chose to do a quick port an AJAX powered Blackjack game I had written previously. The result of this hard work was the first alpha build of iBlackjack, which as a VERY basic proof of concept Blackjack game for the iPhone touch screen to issue casino-like commands.

iBlackjack Alpha 1 Gameplay

I continued to maintain the game over the next few months in my spare time when I wasn’t working late already at my day job.  It generated over 500k downloads in it’s time via the Pre-appstore Installer application. It was a fun hobby that I enjoyed tremendously more and more as time went on.

After six months, I found a great opportunity to turn this hobby of mine into a job.  So I went to work with an established mobile development company on their new offshoot company just for iPhone software, mobileAge. Together we grew a little demo game iBlackjack into a full fledged Blackjack simulator called Blackjack 21 for the official iPhone SDK. Blackjack 21 was released on July 10th, 2008 for sale on the iTunes AppStore.

Blackjack 21

It even got as high as the number 5 app in the store at one point!

I’ve since made other iPhone products for mobileAge; namely Shanghai Mahjong and the Wine Enthusiast Guide.  Both apps have gotten plenty of acclaim as well. For instance Shanghai was runner up for best Phone Game of 2008 from iLounge and is seen on Apple Store fronts worldwide. We were even lucky enough to have Wine Enthusiast Guide be selected by Apple for as in-store demo application.

One of the best things about iPhone development is all the great people I’ve met over the years at local meetups, Apple special events like WWDC and just finding others via Twitter.  It’s a great community with a lot of great people all learning from each other as this new iPhone development community has grown over the years.  Never met a better group of people in my years developing for other platforms.

Our current project is an yet unannounced application that is coming very soon, actually the first wide Beta release of that Application is being sent out to our testers next week. For fun, I just took a teaser shot of the source and destination of the next application.

Next App Teaser Image

I hope to show more of our new product off soon, so stay tuned to this space!

Also if you are interested in snagging a free copy of Blackjack 21, the great Just Another iPhone Blog is having a contest giving away a few copies.  They will likely be giving away copies of Shanghai Mahjong sometime next week too!