iPhone development talk in Philly

Last Tuesday I travelled down to Philadelphia to speak at the Philly ALT.NET meeting. Brian Donahue, the group organiser, invited me to talk about my experience of developing iPhone application from a .NET perspective. Over 20 people turned up and I was surprised that most of them already owned an iPhone and a Mac (remember this is a .NET group afterall).

I began with listing out the things require for iPhone development (hardware and software), then moved onto comparing Objective-C/Xcode with C#/Visual Studio. I showed a quick code demo to illustrate my points on language and environment differences. Finally I talked about the good, bad, and ugly things I feel about iPhone development up to this point.

This is the first time I gave this talk and feel the Philly audience got good value from my experience. The event was hosted at Drexel University campus and a few of the iSchool students were in the audience. One of them even came up to me afterward and asked whether I’d be interested in doing more talks on iPhone development for iSchool!

Here are the slides I presented:

 

 

 

One of the attendee also took some videos and I’ll post them as soon as I receive the link.

 

iPhone Developer’s Cookbook review

When learning a new language/platform/framework, sometimes learning from a book is a good approach. But that depends heavily on picking the 'right' book. What I mean is that the book contains the 'right' amount of content for the reader's skill level. So when I looked for book to learn more about iPhone development, I have something specific in my mind already.

With Apple's original rather restrictive NDA placed on iPhone developers, all the iPhone development books were placed on hold until Apple changed of mind a few months back. One of the book that I received good recommendation from fellow ThoughtWorkers who were also interested in iPhone development was Erica Sudan's iPhone Developer's Cookbook. I bought it earlier this month along with Christmas presents so I can read it during the holiday vacation.

The book is not thick at all, coming just under 340 pages, and took me couple of afternoons to read through. It is written half in traditional cover-to-cover manner and half in 'recipe' manner where developers can find solutions to problem quickly. Perhaps because I've been part of the iPhone SDK program since the beginning and had seen the evolution from the first beta, most of the book content (I'd say 90%) is not new to me. Particularly the sections on table, advanced table, and UI controls are areas that I am already very familiar with after poking around the SDK for over 6 months. I did learn some valuable tips on media and animation, which I've not spent any time on yet.
I'm kind of disappointed by the book because I was hoping I would learn how to create great iPhone app. Particular I was looking for code examples of common application requirements (e.g. how to implement options screen) with in-depth discussion on the limitations imposed by the public API, alternative ways to work around them using legitimate means, as well as undocumented API. I am also hoping to see some mention of unit testing with OCUnit or Google's unit testing framework, profiling using Instrument, and other libraries that would fill in the API gaps. Instead, the book only provides isolated information on each topic and spends to my mind, a disproportion amount of time on undocumented API thus giving it an implicit approval. (On the topic of private/undocumented API, I am in the camp of John Gruber of Daring Fireball)
In the end, I would give this book 3 out of 5 because it provides a lot of valuable information for any one starting out with iPhone development. But it does not provide any insight into building great iPhone application, which I think is sorely missing in this area.

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Spit and Polish

A few months back, I started working on an iPhone app using the beta version of the iPhone SDK. Since then various things got in the way (not to mention the restriction of the old TOS placed on developers so everyone were working in the dark) and I didn't spend any time on it to really finish the app. My interest was revived when I attended the iPhone Tech Talk event in NYC last Tuesday. The sessions were interesting but nothing technical or coding. I learnt a lot more about the process of provisioning an iPhone for development testing and distribution, as well as how to submit app to the iTunes App Store. Most importantly though were that I was able to resolve issues around my personal's Standard and ThoughtWorks' Enterprise applications to the iPhone Developer Program. Now I am able to distribute and test my app on actual phone(s)!

Since Tuesday, I've been spending lots of my free time on polishing up the CCPhone app so I can start distributing it to the masses. One main change from the original vision is the colour theme change. This stems from the advice in the "iPhone User Interface Design" session, where dark colour theme is the preferred colour for apps that people use for short period of time (and possibly under the table/desk).

Another I've found is that the SDK has improved in many ways since the 2.0 days. Now it is easy to find the relevant sample code from the API reference documentation since the links to the sample apps are hyperlinked! There are also a lot more documentation on how to use various type of controls/classes in an advanced manner, much more than just the simple basis stuff. And from talking to all the Apple staff in the Tech Talk, I was impressed by how receptive they are to feedback. Even the really stupid stuff that they shouldn't have released in the first place.
And get this. I ran across a problem with the iPhone Developer Portal on Wednesday when I tried to set myself up with both my personal account and the ThoughtWorks' enterprise account. Somehow I was not able to switch between the two and when I un-assigned myself from the TW's account, I no longer had access to my personal one! With no recourse, I ended up sending an email to Apple and waited. That evening around 5PM, I got a surprise phone call from Apple inquiring about my problem. By that time, the problem had mysteriously resolved itself so I gave the lady on the phone my feedback on the Portal instead. Imagine that, someone actually calls the developer to resolve an issue!
CCPhone is just my way of dipping my toes in the water, testing the temperature. Now I need some more ideas for apps that I can work on.

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NY ALT.NET First meeting: OR/M

Tonight was the first NY ALT.NET meetup and I think it has gone very well. Over 30 people turned up and many have not participated in a fishbowl style discussion before. Stephen Bohlen first gave a quick, 10 minutes, overview of OR/M. Then after a quick pizza break Don Demsak, Stephen Bohlen, and Mark Pollack kicked off the discussion and soon more people joined in the fishbowl experience. After the meeting, I talked to a few attendees and all of them gave very favorable feedback about this more interactive style of meetup, verses the traditional presentation by a speaker style.
On the technical side, we decided to stream the video live after we received a few requests from people who couldn't attend in person. The logistic of setting a stream up using Ustream.tv is trivia but there are a huge amount of fingercrossing and wood touching because everything had to come together at the same time:
  • Mark's DV camera talks to my Macbook Pro via Firewire and record to tape at the same time.
  • Ustream.tv's player recognized Mark's camera
  • Ability to get onto Microsoft's guest wi-fi network
  • Ability to find a place to put the camera that doesn't get into people's view but close enough to get decent sound reception
Having said that, I can't imagine streaming live video on the internet to the public 5 years ago (or even 2!) without huge infrastructure expense, lots of testings, and poor results. Now, it is free, easy to setup, and provide great user experience.
Here is Stephen Bohlen gave an overview of OR/M before the main discussion (~10 mins):

The main discussion (~1 hr 47 mins):

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What? A year already?

How time has flied! It has been a year since I joined ThoughtWorks. In the last 12 months, I've:

  • Visited ThoughtWorks India in Bangalore
  • Worked in 3 totally different projects (.Net desktop app, build & deploy at an enterprise level, and Agile coaching) in 3 different locations (London, Connecticut, New York)
  • Became a committer of an Open Source project, DbDeploy.net
  • Attended ALT.NET conference in Seattle
  • Started ALT.NET NYC with a bunch of great, like-minded developers
  • Edited 4 ThoughtWorks IT Matters podcasts
  • Helped out with recruitment (code reviews, office interviews, phone interviews)
Skills and tools that I've learnt/developed that I didn't think I would otherwise:
  • Agile project management, planning, estimation (Mingle)
  • Presentation and coaching (PowerPoint!, public speaking)
  • Build & Deploy (CruiseControl.NET, Cruise, TeamCity, NAnt, MSBuild, PowerShell, etc.)
  • iPhone development
  • Mocking (NMock, Moq)
  • UI Automated testing (Selenium)
What I can't quantify is the amount of learning I've done during this time. Working with smarter people than myself drove me to self-improvement in ways that I did not think I can or would.
I don't know what would happen in the next 12 months but one thing for sure, I would definitely enjoy it.

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