I have had the pleasure of seeing Christopher Allen in action at the iPhoneDevCamp since its inception in 2007. Chris has been a superb mentor and open source guru for the iPhoneDevCamp hackathon every year. I’ve felt the energy that this DevCamp hackathon has generated from everyone sharing the experience of building applications together. Here are some questions I asked him after this DevCamp’s phenomenal success. Hope you’ll enjoy reading his responses!
What were your expectations from the iPhoneDevCamp this year? Did the camp meet your expectations?
Last year’s hackathon was a great success, in spite of the SDK being so new we were able to demonstrate over 40 iPhone applications. This year we had 54 apps demonstrated, many of which showed the results of a year’s worth of experience in developing for the SDK. The other big problem last year was the NDA, which prevented sharing — this year I was quite pleased with the number of open source entries, which allows people to learn from others and/or improve. Finally, I really liked the number of designers and non-programmers who participated on teams last year, and I was a little worried that they would be shut out given the popularity of iPhone — yet we continued this year to have a number of teams led by designers and teams made up of programmers new to the iPhone.
Do you see the DevCamp growing, getting smaller, or is it just right?
I write about group size in my blog at www.LifeWithAlacrity.com, so I am certain that iPhoneDevCamp will lose something if it grows too big. One thing that could be lost is the ‘amateur’ component that is so valuable — especially given the origin of the word ‘amateur’ is ‘to love’ the lack of amateurs could lead a certain lack of passion. Amateurs also are less likely to fall into traps of “it can’t be done” or “it can’t be profitable” and just make something new happen because they don’t know their limits.
Which applications did you find most intriguing and innovative from the hackathon?
Quite a few, but I think the Augmented Reality library might see the most use by other application developers. I was also inspired by the father teaching his daughter to make the Bubblo application.
Collaboration, community and coding are core themes of the iPhoneDevCamp hackathon. Can you tell us about a few examples you saw at the DevCamp that demonstrated these themes.
More completely, the list is Contribution, Sharing, Openness, and a “Can Do” attitude. I started giving out tickets Friday evening and Saturday morning when I saw people coding or showing others their code during “outside hours” when other stuff was going on. I gave tickets out when someone would answer a call for help on code, or an icon, etc. I would ask each team what person outside their team helped them most, and then go find that person to give them a ticket. Finally, I gave few tickets out when I spotted obvious signs of enthusiasm and happiness.
With the iPhone being a tightly controlled platform by Apple, how do you see open source apps fitting in?
There were a few others at the conference (in particular some of the staff from Yahoo) who have had experience with other Hackathons which were more open source oriented, and they definitely felt a different vibe due to the commercialism of the iPhone. In my own experience with MacHack and the prior iPhoneDevCamp, open source on the iPhone is much more about teaching and learning rather then sharing and contributing to the commons.
What do you see will be the impact of new technologies like HTML5 on the iPhone?
Clearly 5 years from now you can probably do 90% of the apps today for the iPhone using open technologies like HTML5. In fact, that is the basic premise of the Palm Pre. However, we are not quite there yet, and Microsoft will continue to stall and slow the process of open technologies and we will just have to route around them.