Developing Apps for iOS

Recently several high-profile developers and teams shared their list of tools that helped them make apps for iPhone and iPad. I’m not as experienced with app development as they are but I though it might be useful for some new developers to see what I use to make my apps.

Obviously I use Xcode extensively for writing and compiling code. In a previous article I discussed how I turned on most of the compiler options so that my code is more robust. I’m still not fluent in ‘find and replace’ operations and Xcode crashes on me when I try to duplicate files, so I use BBEdit a lot for tweaking the code. I’ll take existing .m and .h, dup them in the finder and then use BBEdit to make global changes so that the new method name is changed everywhere in the file. I also use BBEdit to edit the .sql files that contain my data. Which brings me to the next most important program I use.

Most of the apps that I wrote are based on existing CDs or web pages. We used Filemaker Pro when we made the wordlists for the original CDs but we’ve switched to a web-based editing format instead. We have a bunch of PHP scripts that edit data in MySQL databases. It allows distributed editing of the content and we have a script that takes the data from MySQL and writes it out to an Xcode readable .sql file. We use a Firefox plug-in, SQLite Manager to verify the SQLite files that our scripts produce and occasionally we edit them as well.

Our graphic designer likes Flash so we use an older version to make the icons and graphics in the game. All of the photos were originally edited in Photoshop and we use it occasionally if we need to adjust the photos so they look better on devices. Because we have hundreds or thousands of images in our apps, we turned off automatic compression in the compiler and use ImageOptim to reduce the file size of the images and graphics. It makes a significant difference in the app size as I discussed in this article. I use Acorn to do quick edits to icons and to make placeholders. I had the free version but upgraded when they had a sale. I don’t do much in the way of photo editing, but if I did I’d use Graphic Converter. It has tons of filters and features for massaging photos and is only $40.

We do a lot of moving files back and forth from the server to the desktop and use Cyberduck for SFTP transfer. We used to have our own server but now we use a VPS hosted at Linode and are very happy with it—not to mention the fact that it costs $25/month (including backups) rather than $200.

We have a bunch of bash scripts for renaming sound files and Flash file exports and use Renamer 4 to rename files.

Since almost all of our apps rely extensively on sounds, we spent a lot of time in SoundStudio recording, cutting, and cleaning up the sounds. Audacity has matured enough that we use it on machines that we don’t have a SoundStudio license for or when we hire extra people to do massive amounts of sound cutting. We use a simple bash script to convert the files from .aiff to .m4a format.

From time to time we need to use formatted HTML in our apps. For example, we might want to highlight the target word in a sentence. We’ll export the sentences from the database and use Bean to color the target word red. Then export the text to HTML, clean up in BBEdit, and import to MySQL.

The import, export, and editing of the database is done with PHPMyAdmin and occasionally command line imports.

Unlike other teams, we don’t really need much communication. The little communication we do is by email and occasional in-person meetings.

I keep track of what needs to be done in a simple list in Notes.

That’s about it. I just bought a Mac Mini for around $1,000 since my Laptop won’t run Mountain Lion. Our total investment in software is $99 per year for the Xcode developer license and $25/month for the server. I’ve been using BBEdit forever so I don’t know how much I’ve paid for it, but a new copy is $49. You can get a free copy of TextWrangler from them that does most of what BBEdit does. Most of the rest of the programs that we use are either fee or cheap. We’ve donated a couple hundred dollars to Cyberduck and Audacity since they are so incredibly useful. We have old versions of Photoshop and Flash but if you were starting from scratch there are lots of replacements that are inexpensive. Acorn and Pixelmator work just as well as Photoshop for most or our graphics. If you are on a budget, you can easily get started on app development for less that $1,000. But even if you have money to burn, you don’t need to spend more than $2,000 to get all the tools you need.