Fruitful Developer Camp Proves iPhone’s Web Prowess

Reported by Geekdad’s Chris Radcliff

Wow. If there was any doubt that the iPhone is a hot platform, iPhoneDevCamp 2 just squashed it like a tank tread over a pile of Zunes.

Hundreds of attendees got together for a weekend of iPhone application hacking, discussion and beer. Buckets of beer and piles of pizza, all supplied by sponsors eager to find out who might have the next killer app. And apps there were aplenty; 44 teams submitted them for the hackathon, including 3 top apps from satellite camps.

I didn’t mention sleep, because there was none. This was my very first time developing for the iPhone (or in Objective-C at all), so I coded into the wee hours of the morning just to get things to compile. My team got a lot of help from Objective-C gurus on site, too. (Details and video of our award-winning Fwerps app are over at GeekDad.)

I wasn’t alone, though; some amazing apps were developed in a really short time. A few of my favorites:

CopyPaste

I know it’s bad form to start a “top apps” list with the best-of-show entry, but I just can’t wait to tell you about Zac White’s Copy and Paste demo. In a nutshell, it’s an API that allows copying of arbitrary data from app to app. People have been grumbling about the lack of iPhone copy/paste for a year now, but Zac White solved it in a weekend and got it into at least two mainstream apps. My jaw is still sore from hitting the floor.

Gap

There weren’t many web apps on display at this year’s camp, but web development through the iPhone’s Safari browser still has some benefits over a native app. Gap wants to provide the best of both worlds. Like Fluid on the Mac, it’s a platform for encapsulating a web application into a native shell that can be distributed on the App Store. The platform also gives JavaScript access to phone features like the accelerometer, the camera and local SQLite databases. I can see this (combined with something like iui) taking web apps to the next level.

iRa

For an entry in the Serious Business category, iRa managed to pack in some serious cool. It’s an interface for viewing live video from remote surveillance cameras, with amazingly responsive video (motion JPEG apparently) over 3G. The best part of the demo was when he used finger swipes to move the camera around and pinched to zoom in and out, both with only a slight delay.

MagicTable

If Cocoa and Interface Builder aren’t your forte but you still need a dynamic interface for a data-driven app, MagicTable might be just the thing. It’s a framework for defining hierarchical table views with XML, with common field types like dates, text fields, phone numbers and on/off choices. They just added a database form-entry mechanism, which might be a handy way to browse through and edit or remove data sources without a lot of coding.

Redactive Debugger

Debugging on the iPhone still needs a lot of work. If an app crashes on the device but not on the simulator, it’s hard to tell what caused the failure. (I ran into that over and over, because my Objective-C syntax has a Perl accent.) Redactive Debugger creates a web server on the phone that displays full traces of the running app. The conditions around your bug get displayed in a browser as they’re happening, so it’s much easier to detect patterns.

GreasePocket

Three words: GreaseMonkey for iPhone. If the idea didn’t immediately make you go to the GreasePocket site and repeatedly click reload waiting for more details to be posted, then read on: The demo consisted of a custom Web browser that could install and run arbitrary user scripts for a given Web site. The user goes to a target site (say, GMail), then goes to greasepocket.com to pick a script to apply, then goes back to the target site. Voila, suddenly GMail does just what I want it to. Who knows if Apple will allow it on the app store, but I can’t wait to see more of it either way.

The one overarching impression I got was that iPhone development is just getting warmed up. There are so many game-changing features on the device, developers are still trying to get their minds around the possibilities.