MacTech 2011: TMO Interviews Boinx’s Florian Albrecht

TMO’s Dave Hamilton attended MacTech 2011 and had the opportunity to interview several Apple developers. Here’s the conversation Mr. Hamilton had with Boinx’s Florian Albrecht in which they discuss the gotchas of video editing in iOS, the Mac App Store market gamble and the impact of OS X sandboxing.

MacTech 2011

Dave Hamilton: Tell us a little bit about your history with Boinx.

Florian Albrecht: It’s actually been quite a long time. I joined Oliver [Breidenbach] in the beginning of 2003 when he had the idea of getting back into the Mac business. At the time he and his brother [Achim] were doing Web consulting using [Apple’s] Web Objects. Early on, they thought Mac OS X is still a bit early to get into, but with Panther, they thought, let’s get into this. Oliver and his brother had the first idea of iStopMotion — stop-motion software — because they were doing stop-motion back in their childhood with a handheld camera.

So we started doing that, and we used QuickTime for Java technology. And it kind of worked. But we soon learned that QuickTime for Java wouldn’t cut it, so we switched to Cocoa. So that’s how we got started doing Cocoa development for the Mac actually.

Prior to that, I was doing Web consulting, Java consulting, and so that’s how I got into the Mac business. And we grew the company all the way from there. And I was involved in everything from the beginning. Public relations, engineering, everything.

TMO: So, how many products do you have for the Mac right now?

FA: Oh my gosh, it’s hard to count them. iStopMotion of course. FotoMagico. We have a couple of smaller ones that aren’t so heavily hyped. We have Mouseposé our presentation tool. Then came PhotoPresenter — which we actually bought and then further developed. And then, of course, our latest is BoinxTV.

TMO: So, always with video…

FA: Always for creative people, for photographers, for video. Those are our target audiences.

TMO: Your products certainly aren’t niche products. But from a developer’s standpoint, perhaps the APIs you want may not always be there?

FA: [laughs] Niche is called QuickTime.

TMO: [laughing together] Right!

FA: It used to be that it was the height of technology. And then it faded a little. But now we see it is coming back slowly, right? Now the foundation that’s used in the iPhone is coming back into the Mac, and finally we’re seeing some really great technology. Of course, it has been there, but not so public.

Florian Albrecht

Florian Albrecht, Engineering and Product Marketing Manager

At the same time, lots of our products use video hardware. And that was very daunting in the last couple of years because FireWire camcorders basically disappeared from the market. And there was nothing to replace them so far. Now with Thunderbolt, we see hope on the horizon again.

TMO: That is interesting to see how FireWire was so popular, and now it’s gone from camcorders. And nothing to replace it.

FA: And in the 1990s, you had these DV cameras that were fairly cheap, and they had a FireWire port for use with the Mac. It was really geared towards doing video on those machines. Then, suddenly, products started to disappear, and we had a hard time recommending good video products to our customers. And so it remains today, but it’s getting better.

TMO: Obviously you started on the Mac, and then have jumped into iOS. How has that transition been?

FA: That’s a fairly interesting question. Mainly because if you do video editing, you’re used to having memory available. But now, in doing video processing, we don’t get that much memory [available to us]. And not in that fast paced fashion as you would on the Mac of course. So you can’t just allocate several megabytes. That’s the toughest thing we learned about doing video on iOS so far.

TMO: Now that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that before. And that will always be a limitation of iOS.

FA: In general, it is. They [Apple] are getting a lot better about it. But right now, still, if you ask the system, “give me a chunk, 60 megabytes,” the system wil just kill you. It just won’t allow you to do that. And it won’t just deny the memory. It will literally kill you; the system will decide that this process is going haywire and actually kick it out. That’s not what it was like on the Mac.

TMO: You certainly have, with the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, dual core chips and possibilities for more of that video processing, but without the RAM, not so much!

FA: But of course, it’s getting better. New APIs are coming. But we were hoping for the iPad 2 to have more memory. And the same for the iPhone 4S. But… it will get there. And we are kind of famous for doing software that pushes the absolute limits of the hardware. So we’re back in the same spot again.

TMO: Right, this is familiar territory. Let me ask you, how have the sales of your iOS apps been like? Compared to what you were used to on the Mac side? Certainly, before the Mac App Store.

FA: Well, it’s a real shift in the market. The iOS market is very different, and we see the same changes happening, especially in the Mac App Store. Honestly, we think it’s much more of a gamble than it used to be. Previously, if you had a solid Mac product, and it looked nice and it worked nice, and was priced in an okay fashion, you’d make good sales. It’s not the same in the iOS market. It’s much harder to get attention for those products, to be high up in the ranking, or to be visible. That’s a better way of saying it. There are definitely a lot of customers out there, but they just don’t find your products, usually. Getting the visibility is really the tough part. It’s close to gambling.

TMO: Clearly, getting the visibility inside the Mac App Store is a gamble, as you said. Is there anything you can do outside of that? I mean, before the Mac App Store, you found customers without Apple creating a marketplace. Is that opportunity to find customers outside the Apple channel less now than it used to be? Any thoughts on that?

FA: It’s a complex thing because you see a lot of new users coming to the platforms, but they’re not the same as they were before. Before, the [Mac] community was a kind of closed group and those people were reading news, like your Web site, listening to podcasts, and that kind of stuff. But now, we have a lot bigger audience, especially because of the new pricing models, you need to make sure you have lots of customers. And that’s kind of hard to achieve with the same channels because those people don’t read news, and they don’t just do podcasts. They go to the stores, and they watch TV and things like TV ads are out of the reach of most common Mac and iOS developers.

TMO: Again, going from Mac to iOS and now back to Mac, we’ve got this sandboxing thing. Apple said, as of yesterday, that sandboxing for Mac apps starts on March 1st [2012], but it was supposed to be November 1st. It could still be in flux, but it seems that Apple is still committed to making this sandbox thing happen — in some way, shape or form. Does that impact you and the products that you’re developing?

FA: Of course, massively. Massively. And again, the current situation is a little unfortunate because we’re still trying to support all the way back to Leopard [OS X 10.5], and given the current tools you have on the Mac for sandboxing, it’s getting really tough. It’s getting really tough to ship PowerPC code and do sandboxing at the same time. That’s a tough situation, and traditionally we did convenience things that are hard in sandboxing, like read the Address Book to check for information if the customer wanted to contact us and things like that. Nowadays, that would have to be in a separate process — which is not how we architected originally. So we have a lot of changes to make. That has occupied us for the last year, just making changes to adapt to the new markets.

TMO: [laughs] Everybody is saying the same thing! And timewise, it gets in the way of development, adding new features.

FA: Absolutely.

Boinx officeBoinx office, Puchheim Germany

TMO: Now… you mentioned something interesting. A lot of creative professionals in various markets tend not to be very geeky, though they’re very knowledgable about the platforms they use. Almost because of that, they tend not to be early adopters. In fact, they tend to be the last people to migrate their operating system. You find something that works, and by golly, I’m not going to mess with it. I have all this hardware that needs to connect. So clearly, you’re in that space where you’ve got plenty of customers.

FA: So we have lots of customers in schools and universities, and those institutions cannot just say, so we’ll just get new hardware and new software — that’s not an option. So we still have a lot of PowerPC installations out there that we want to support. Which is just getting more and more tedious. Just doing the testing is getting really hard now.

On the other hand, we really appreciate Apple pushing the technology forward. As they always have. It’s a great thing, a really great thing.

TMO: It’s a double-edged sword.

FA: Eventually, the sandboxing technology will be good for the end user. It will take a while to get there, but it’s good.