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iPad App Devs Go Bug-Stomping

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 8, 2010 9:10 AM PT

Apple's tight control over the release of the iPad may have been a brilliant way to build a buzz verging on hysteria about the tablet, but it was a buzz-kill for many developers.

iPad App Devs Go Bug-Stomping

"It was a frustrating way to work, because you didn't really know how the app would work on the actual hardware," Jens Egeblad, a principal in Vivid Apps, maker of an iPad program called "Strip Designer," told MacNewsWorld.

"I felt like I was working blindfolded," he added, "I still do." When interviewed for this report, Egesblad, who is based in Denmark, was still waiting for delivery of his iPad.

A scan of AppShopper, a Web site for iPhone and iPad applications, suggests that many developers may be sharing Egesblad's sentiments. Judging from the number of 1.0.1 and higher updates, there seems to be lots of tweaking of apps going on, much of it to correct bugs discovered by software authors after they physically laid their hands on an iPad.

Mole-Like Reflexes

Those problems are affecting both small and large developers. The initial release of Amazon's Kindle app, for instance, didn't display its toolbar inside its books. When opening a book, a home button rapidly displayed in the upper left corner of the screen then disappeared. A reader could reach the home screen, but they needed the reflexes of a star-nosed mole to do it.

Amazon fixed the problem this week. Now touching the bottom of a page in a Kindle book displays the home and bookmark buttons at the top of the screen and a toolbar for navigation and controlling fonts at the bottom of the page. Abnormal reflexes are no longer required.

The absence (until last weekend) of hardware to debug apps may be contributing to an apparent rash of buggy apps for the iPad, but scale may be contributing as well, according to Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret.

The bug situation with iPad apps may be slightly more severe than it was when the iPhone was introduced, he observed. "You have almost 10 times as many applications," he told MacNewsWorld. "You have 3,000 applications. The iPhone had a few hundred applications at launch."

Rush to Join Surge

Given the fact that developers had to create apps for the iPad with simulation software, "it's pretty amazing considering the number of apps that we've seen," Gartenberg noted.

"As developers are first getting their devices," he continued, "it's not a surprise that they're going to be tweaking their applications a little bit, whether it be bug fixes or performance.

"But," he added, "many developers simply did not want to be left out of the gate at launch. They wanted to be part of that initial surge of application downloads."

"A lot of the issues were just the fact that developers were building for a device that they couldn't test on until it started shipping to customers," he said.

Simulator Shortcomings

Although developers generally agree that the software simulator distributed by Apple before the iPad launch was a solid offering, it could have contributed to some of the problems authors discovered once they began running their wares on the actual tablet.

For example, a minor bug in the Art Authority app, by Open Door Networks, may have been caused by a bug in the simulator. "We believe it did not correctly simulate a rotation event," Open Door President Alan Oppenheimer told MacNewsWorld.

After observing Art Authority's performance on the iPad, Open Door's programmers were scratching their heads over what seemed to be an obvious bug that should have been caught in quality control. "So we go back to the simulator and do exactly the same thing, and it's not showing the problem at all," Oppenheimer explained.

Another simulator deficiency cited by Oppenheimer is the software's inability to recreate the "Face Up" condition in the iPad. Face Up occurs when the iPad is resting on a flat surface. Determining horizontal from vertical in that state can be challenging. "It gets confused when it's flat in general, but the simulator doesn't simulate that confusion," Oppenheimer said.

Other simulator shortcomings were the inability to recreate low memory situations, add music to apps and purchase modules for an app within an app.

Overall, though, the simulator performed well, Oppenheimer noted. "It was better than I thought it would have been," he admitted. "For 95 percent of the situations, it was pretty good."

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