Lawson started a Hartford-area firm, 2nd Opinion Technology, in 2007, and he runs the popular music website LocalBandReview.com. He's been designing applications for well over 20 years -- standard fare for insurance companies, manufacturing, on and on -- but he says his experience with mobile is relatively limited, with only a half-dozen apps under his belt.
"I'm kind of a one-man shop," Lawson says. "I depend on the companies or the people that want them designed for the content. I do the layout. I have a couple of graphics people I can call to do some extra graphics."
For the most part, Lawson says it makes sense to create the Apple version of an app first, because "you can actually make money... The Android community doesn't normally pay a lot [for apps] whereas Apple, because of the whole iTunes culture, they're easy. They have your credit card information. You see 99 cents and you go, Yeah, okay, I'll take it."
Most developers, Lawson says, will put most of their effort into an Apple app, even though the curation process is more difficult. Apple not only tests for memory leaks and performance, but also for design patterns. And they'll reject anything that resembles what programmers call "fart apps" - essentially iPhone whoopie cushions. They don't want a bunch of fart apps clogging up their iTunes interface.
"Some of their points are valid and some of them aren't," Lawson says. "You can't really compete with any of the native features they have on their phone."
DeBonis agrees. "Sometimes [Apple] will mention something small to fix," he says. "It's never something insurmountable. I was nervous about "Nimble Strong" because of the alcohol references and the content is a little more mature. But that wasn't an issue. It's usually a technical thing." One of the games Sortasoft submitted was sent the day the iPhone 5 was issued, without the team having access to it. "We got feedback that something didn't display correctly," DeBonis said. "That was actually helpful to us... It delayed the launch by a few days, but we didn't want anybody having a bad experience either."
Seymour and MEA Mobile, meanwhile, haven't had too many issues with Apple's curation process. "It is a walled garden," he says. "But there's more hype to them rejecting things than the reality." The bottom line, he says, is that if you create a useful app that does something beneficial, Apple will approve it.
"We've never had an app rejected outright," Seymour says. "Apple is very good about identifying why an app was rejected, and then have the ability to correct that and resubmit to Apple. The good far outweighs the bad. In fact, there is no bad."
The Independent Spirit
They come from different backgrounds - Lawson from traditional programming and network security, Seymour from film and DeBonis from board game design and jazz. But all three developers seem to possess a fierce, independent streak.
Lawson mostly works alone, championing independent musicians in his leisure time, while Seymour and his colleagues all have indie filmmaking backgrounds. "We're all ex-indie film guys," he says, "which is why a lot of our apps are in the photo/video space." Among other films, Seymour produced the 2006 Connecticut-based indie film A New Wave, which starred John Krasinski (The Office), Andrew Keegan (CSI: NY) and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five). (Seymour himself played a character named Eugene.)
"Developing apps is very similar to filmmaking in that it's very collaborative," says Framularo, MEA's business development manager, who also has several film credits attached to his name. "You really need a team of people, just like doing a feature film."
For his part, DeBonis is actively engaged in what he calls "indie gaming" culture. He raised funds for "Meriwether" through a successful Kickstarter campaign, a strategy that's popular with indie rock musicians. Indie gaming, DeBonis says, is what indie filmmaking is to Hollywood: working with smaller budgets, incorporating experimental topics and perhaps getting as cutting-edge as possible. It also means less polished production values and smaller audiences.
"There's a range of different developers doing that style," DeBonis says. "A lot of them are just individuals working out of their bedrooms. Some are small studios, like what we do, a lot of which are temporary collaborations or very small companies or virtual companies. Then there's a few fairly large companies that are more established, maybe just on the edge of what's considered independent versus non-independent. There's no clear line."
Like indie rock, there's an aesthetic and attitude that comes through in the work, one that appeals to a particular type of gamer.
"It's for a combination of two groups," DeBonis says. "People who are looking for something deeper and maybe more artistic and creative, which are often the same types of people who seek out independent films or music."
The other group, DeBonis says, are "lapsed gamers," "people who used to play a lot of games on Playstation or whatever," DeBonis says, "but now that they're older and have families and jobs and other commitments, they don't really have the time to play a 100-hour console experience." Lapsed indie gamers are still looking for depth, he says, but in a form that can be played in 10 minutes or less on their iPhone, on the train or when they have a few minutes. "These two groups are looking for the same type of thing, but for different reasons... I would put myself into both of those categories."
Lawson spends much of his time these days developing an app that's most likely not going to lead to early retirement; it's an app for LocalBandReview.com, his blog dedicated to the Connecticut music scene. When it's finished, he hopes to have multiple RSS feeds coming in from other area music blogs.
"We don't want to hijack other people's [music] blogs," Lawson says. "But if they want to have their content in there, they just have to put their tag on it and it'll show up in our [app] newsfeed. I believe in giving credit to everyone. That's what I do."
App developer Michael Lawson.
A screen capture from Sortasoft's Nimble Strong. (Courtesy Sortasoft)