Developers hack out new apps at iPhoneDevCamp

Developers hack out new apps at iPhoneDevCamp

For iPhone app developers, the year's biggest event is undoubtedly Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference

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This past weekend nearly 600 people gathered at the Yahoo campus in Sunnyvale, California, for iPhoneDevCamp 3, the third instalment of what has become an annual BarCamp-style conference where the participants are also the organizers and presenters.

The first iPhoneDevCamp was held in July 2007, soon after the original iPhone debuted, and focused on developing Web apps. iPhoneDevCamp 2, held in August 2008, revolved around the native apps made possible by the iPhone 2.0 software. This year's conference continued that focus, adding coverage of features and opportunities provided by this year's iPhone 3.0 software update.


In addition to the in-person attendees, many more developers took part in the weekend's activities through satellite locations in 10 cities, including Chicago, New York, Austin, Boston, and Munich. These locations were able to participate via video feeds; there was even an iPhone Web app for choosing and viewing feeds.

Among the weekend's activities were presentations by an array of participant-speakers, lots of opportunities to commune with other iPhone developers, as well as a performance by musical artist BT, the DJ and artist who also happens to have his own iPhone app, Sonifi ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). The highlight of the weekend's activities, however, was Sunday afternoon's Hackathon contest.

Clearly inspired by the Best Hack competition held over the years at MacHack, Hackathon is a contest where developers try to come up with the best iPhone apps--from idea to working software--over the weekend. (Some apps were obviously started before the conference began; these were eligible as long as iPhoneDevCamp was the first time they were publicly demonstrated, although preference was given to apps created at the conference.)

On Sunday afternoon, each team of developers was given three minutes to present their app, and winners were chosen in a wide range of categories, from Best Open Source to Ironcoder, the latter given to the app that makes the best use of particular APIs announced Friday evening.

I had the pleasure of being one of the Hackathon judges this year, and over the course of three hours, we saw demos of over 50 new iPhone apps. You can read the list of Hackathon 3 winners on the iPhoneDevCamp site, but here are a few of my personal favourites:

    • Foodspotting Lite : Winner of the Best Social App award, Foodspotting Lite is a clever app for foodies that lets you search for dishes rather than restaurants; for example, you can search for the best vegetarian burrito nearby. You can also find the highest rated food dishes in your area. "Foodspotters" can use their iPhones to upload photos of dishes, and the app will also offer food scavenger hunts.
    • Nurse Brain: Winner of the award for Highest Potential Startup Idea, Nurse Brain is an app to ease nurse shift transitions in hospitals. The app provides a "dashboard" with information on every patient under a nurse's care, including vital signs, historical pain graphs, treatment requirements, and more. Nurses can track their work with each patient, and then pass all this information on to the next nurse when the shift is over. The app will also include facility maps and live-updated patient locations, customised for each hospital.
    • CarPark: The unanimous winner for Most Useful App, CarPark is designed to help you remember where you parked your car and avoid getting parking tickets. When you park, the app tags your location, using the iPhone's GPS feature, to make it easier to find your way back. If you're in a parking structure, the app also lets you record the floor, section, and color. You can take a photo of the area or the car itself--the latter useful if you're driving a rental--and add notes. Finally, and perhaps most usefully, a parking-meter screen lets you enter the meter time and set an alarm to remind you when the meter is about to expire; unlike similar apps on the App Store, CarPark uses push notifications for alerts, so the app doesn't have to be running to remind you.
    • MockUp: MockUp is a tool for creating mockups of iPhone-app interfaces. The app's built-in library includes all the standard iPhone-app interface elements--buttons, menus, text areas, etc.--and lets you place them on an iPhone-screen template. You can position and resize each element as desired, with the end result being a (non-functional) prototype of an iPhone-app UI. You can then, for example, email that image to the rest of your development team for discussion or implementation. It's a simple app, but it drew cheers from the developers in the audience.
    • Panelfly : Yet another comic-book reader for the iPhone, PanelFly was impressive because of its great interface. In addition to an in-app store for purchasing new comics, PanelFly offers an intuitive UI for browsing your comics, as well an impressive panel-by-panel reading mode where a tap on the screen advances you to the next panel--where "next" is defined by the comic creator, not the app. (It's similar to Comics by Comixology [ Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ], which we reviewed recently.)

While these were my favourites, many others were also impressive--especially considering that some of the teams consisted of people who hadn't even met before the conference began less than 48 hours earlier.

The final event of the weekend, after the Hackathon prizes were awarded, was another unique giveaway featuring hundreds of prizes provided by the event's 30-plus sponsors. Over the course of the weekend, the conference staff awarded tickets to attendees when they demonstrated the values of Contribution, Sharing, Openness, and a "Can-Do" Attitude. At the closing event, each attendee got to trade in his or her tickets for a single prize; those with the most tickets got to go first, so they got the pick of the litter, so to speak. It was a clever way to reward collaboration and participation.

Next year's iPhoneDevCamp dates haven't yet been announced, but the coordinators--and attendees--made it clear they're already looking forward to it.

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