TMO Interviews Andrew Stone: Developing For the iPhone for 20 Years

Andrew Stone started working with the original Cocoa API's on the NeXT computer in the 1980s. In this interview, he takes us from those early days up through his Macintosh development and, now, the phenomenally successful Twittelator Pro for iPhone.

We're here at Moscone West with Andrew Stone of Stone Design Software located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Andrew Stone

Andrew Stone

TMO: Mr Stone, let's talk about all things Mac and iPhone software at Stone Design.

Stone: What I think's interesting is that, in fact, I was getting into the iPhone twenty years ago [laughs] with the NeXT computer. And what is weird is that people say, 'How could you possibly do that?' They say, 'Andrew, you're a lying sack of sh*t.' And I say, no, actually, unbelievably, I'm working with the same language and the same APIs that we were using twenty years ago - but they've matured into what we're using on the iPhone today.

TMO: It's no accident that many of the Cocoa APIs start with 'NS', Next Step.

Stone: Exaaactly. And that's funny, because back in the 80s there was this joke. 'What will the language of the future look like -- what will be it be called?' And the answer was, in the engineering circles, 'I don't know, but it will be called Fortran.'

Well, it's actually called Objective-C, but it's still a boutique language.

But what happened was that in first porting Objective-C and Cocoa to IBM then Sun and finally Intel in the 80s, Steve Jobs conquered architectures. All of a sudden, it didn't matter what architecture you're on. And all that led up to how Apple made the transition to Intel so easily. Because... we'd already done it four or five times. On top of that, the whole idea of object oriented programming, with all its layers has allowed, for example, Grand Central Dispatch to be neatly inserted under the current APIs. So ... as long as you stick to the APIs, everything just continues to work.

And now, of course, if you try to do something on the iPhone thats, ahh, underhanded, Apple will find out and won't let you ship your app.

TMO: You know, I don't know anyone who has had that kind of continuity over the last 20 years.

Stone: On top of that, I've know a lot of people at Apple over the years. I never went on the Internet and dissed Steve [Jobs]. I know so many developers who've shot themselves in the foot. You know, they get upset over this or that. But I've always been able to keep it in perspective -- 'cause I'm a small Indie. Now I may be a small Indie that has had ideas co-opted by Apple, but that's just my part of creating this whole thing that Apple has become.

TMO: How many people are in your company?

Stone: well it used to be four. But now it's just me... I do the coding, and my wife makes sure I don't spend too much money! I like to say, I'm the CEO and she's the bottle washer ... and that my boss is a real jerk ... and he's got a lazy worker... [laughter]

Actually, for about twenty years I've had moderate success. But not the kind of success that makes one arrogant.

TMO: It's been a full-time job, right?

Stone: Yeah. Exactly. I love it. It feeds me. I'm at it all the time.

TMO: You told me before we started that the Mac sales were down. Was it really bad?

Stone: No. But it was beginning to be subsistence living. As opposed to, 'Hey, I'm doing fine, we can take a week, take the family somewhere.'

TMO: But Twittelator Pro has changed that?

Stone: Sure. Now, I'm buying all sorts of things. Every body in the family has a new computer, a new iPhone... But you know, this is what you gotta do. If you make money, you gotta spend it! It's my duty in an economy like this. But seriously, the Indie has to live by his wits. He's gonna be out spent, out marketed. But if you do guerilla marketing, talk to the right people, get the right people interested in your software... that's why my product, Twittelator Pro has had its own momentum.

TMO: How does it compare to the other iPhone Twitter clients in popularity?

Stone: From what I've seen, it's almost always mentioned in the top three -- along with Twitterrific, Twitterfon, and sometimes, Tweetie.

TMO: Some developers have complained that they're not getting paid accurately and in a timely way. Have you had any problems?

Stone: Well, you see, Apple hires these guys from Wharton... and sometimes they do hold onto the revenue a little bit longer to make their books look good. But it's not outside the terms of the contract. So long as it's paid within 90 days of when the app was posted....I did notice that we all got paid early this month, right before WWDC! That was so the developers wouldn't bitch!

TMO: Sometimes we hear naysayers say that the iPhone can't maintain its momentum. How do you feel about that -- whether Apple can continue to flourish in the smartphone market.

Stone: You know, some people have great access to the Press. And they can just say anything. And that may be useful for awhile, but remember the Croatian saying, "A lie has short legs!" And I might add, only only the iPhone has this legion of loyal developers. Add to that -- Apple has captured the fancy of corporate America. Every Fortune 500 company wants its own iPhone app now. So there's no shortage of work for any iPhone developer. [TMO emphasis.]

TMO: Is that just for their own public apps? Like the newspapers and CNN? But not for internal use by employees?

Stone: Nooo. It's at all levels. They're just seduced by the iPhone. Soooo ...the other guys are gonna have to come up with a way to equal that seduction.... you saw the numbers in the keynote, 50,000 apps for the iPhone. Once the momentum starts, it's hard to catch up. But, as I said, what's amazing is the brand loyalty of Apple's developers. And the people that Steve brought over from NeXT... some have been with NeXT and Apple for twenty years. It's feudal. It's loyalty to Steve and loyalty to all the people all around him.

If I can say just one more thing. I was tweeting this morning about how we all miss Steve. It's all going to continue, it'll flourish no matter what. But the thing is...that guy... drives people to do their best.

And if you look at the PC world, the iPhone is the Trojan Horse. It's what's dragging people into the Mac world now.

TMO: Mr Stone, these have been some amazing insights. Thanks for taking the time to chat with TMO!