Most of my friends know that I’m always working on side projects. And if you don’t know what side project I’m currently working on, that doesn’t mean that I’m taking a break. It just means that I’m being quiet. ;-)
This side project began as an experiment in March, 2009, and over the past 2½ years, it’s become my new full-time job.
In February, 2009, I bought a Mac Mini so that I could port my Adobe Illustrator to XAML plug-in to run on a Mac. As a technologist, I was aware of the Apple App Store and had followed its progress since it opened its doors in July, 2008. I was spending my time in Apple’s developer tools (Xcode) anyway, so I downloaded the iPhone SDK to see what mobile development was all about. I also picked up an iPhone 3G for testing.
After some frustrating weeks learning Objective-C (thankfully, I already knew C/C++), I managed to build an app called 3D Camera that was released in May, 2009. I created a “novelty” app primarily because I didn’t have time to maintain servers or other back-end infrastructure, and I wanted a fun app that nobody would depend on. I also needed an app that the press wouldn’t find very interesting. After all, my day job was still as a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, and nobody needed that article.
At the time, most of my decisions were based on experimentation, and I never expected that this side project would turn into anything real. I told one of my friends that I’d be happy if I could make enough money to pay for a new camera lens. My company name, Juicy Bits, was concocted on short notice so I could release 3D Camera in the App Store. If I knew that it would eventually become my full-time job, I probably would have put more thought into the name!
Since then, Juicy Bits has served as an after-hours technical playground. I didn’t need it to pay the bills, so I was free to experiment. I continued to build novelty apps, and I tried running sales, creating “lite” versions, altering pricing, using social media, and just about anything that could teach me more about this new marketplace. Not only was I hooked, but I was constantly learning new things, challenging myself, and having fun all at the same time!
But I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Only my wife and one of my closest friends knew what I was doing.
As my skills improved, I was able to create and release more apps. In June, 2009, I packaged-up some of my close-up nature photos and published a gallery of wallpaper images. Those gallery apps have gone through some revisions to become Nature Images, Nature Images HD, and Textures HD. While they’re not big sellers, each release has taught me just a little bit more about how the app marketplace works.
In December, 2009, I released Spy Pix. It’s yet another novelty (and photography) app that uses a technique called steganography to hide one image inside of another. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it’s popular with college kids who like to send…err…special photos to each other. Who knew!?
3D Camera Studio, a more fully-featured version of my first app, 3D Camera, was finally approved by Apple in May, 2010. The iPad had been released in January, and this was my first in-depth experiment with tablet development. It was liberating to have a larger screen and a chance to redesign my original app for this new form factor.
In between the new apps, I was adding features to existing apps, fixing bugs, and starting to promote them more and more. As a result, the business side of Juicy Bits continued to generate more income. My apps were being reviewed in printed magazines, online, and frequently, they were featured by Apple in their New and Noteworthy and Staff Favorites lists.
The more popular they became, the more that other companies would reach out to me with offers to collaborate on future apps and products. Because I needed to keep Juicy Bits under the radar, I had to pass up many exciting opportunities. It was frustrating.
My most recent app, Halftone, was inspired by another technique that makes photos look like they came from old newspapers and comic books. You’d think I have a thing for photography apps, wouldn’t you? Halftone was released in February of this year, and it’s my first Universal app (meaning that the same app runs on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad).
It will come as no surprise that I like the most recent app the best. Over the summer, Halftone was selected by Apple as its iPhone and iPad App of the Week in both Canada and the UK. It’s spent a lot of time in “top 10” lists, and it’s frequently among the top 100 photography apps in many of the worldwide app stores. It even spent some time above Angry Birds, if you can believe it! Within the next week or two, it’ll tick over the one million user mark. It’s stunning (to me) to think that Halftone has been used to create over 5½ million photos.
So, in the summer of 2011, it hit me: I’m having so much fun writing mobile software for Juicy Bits, why don’t I make it my full time job? After discussing the idea with some trusted friends, I decided that I would leave my job at Microsoft after we completed our BUILD event in September, 2011. After 11½ wonderful years, September 30th, 2011 was my last day at Microsoft.
October 1st, 2011 was the beginning of something new and exciting. While I miss the daily interaction with all of my Microsoft friends and internet followers, I’m having fun applying my full attention to Juicy Bits and what comes next.
There’s another set of Halftone updates coming later this year, and I hope to release a new app that I’ve been working on sometime before Christmas.
If you want a quick tour of Halftone, Adorama TV recently published a nice video review that’s worth watching. Also, crowdSPRING ran an interview that they did with me a few weeks back that contains a few more details.
Welcome to Juicy Bits.
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