I had the chance to sit down with Tony Arnold (a few thousand miles away, but in all honesty, we were both sitting) the Developer of Hyperspaces. ”What is Hyperspaces?” a few of you may ask. Well, you can check out our review or the CocoaBots website to learn more.
Our interview with Tony Arnold after the jump.
Hello Tony, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello readers! I’m Tony Arnold, and I am an Xcode-a-holic. I spend my days (and some nights) writing Mac and iPhone apps both for my own business – The CocoaBots – and for other companies. I live with my partner Leah in Newcastle, Australia – an active port city about 2 hours north of Sydney. Most of our free time is spent renovating a beautiful old home we bought two years ago.
How did you get into application development?
I’ve always been interested in computers. I was that annoying kid who broke absolutely every machine I ever touched because I just needed to know how things work – many a mac LC lost its ability to boot under my curious fingers and impatient clicks. My first foray into ‘proper’ development started when I was in high school – I was sick and stuck at home for a month, so I borrowed a book on CodeWarrior and proceeded to make myself very, very confused. I don’t think I ever actually wrote very much using CodeWarrior because I was introduced to the BASIC programming language not long afterward (and at the time it was all gobbledegook to me, so less confusing gobbledegook was a good thing!). I spent a few years convincing myself that knowing BASIC was enough before “The Real World™” kicked in, I finished high school and went off to get a job doing web development (which, like brown onions on belts, was the fashion at the time).
I released a bunch of smaller apps for managing modifications to Unreal Tournament on the mac (I think it was called UTLrX or something equally teenager-centric), and then didn’t really code much of anything on the mac for a few years. Around 2005 I got serious about mac app development when I picked up development of VirtueDesktops – an open source product. It was a tour de force of learning, and the best professional decision I ever made. I screwed up big time while I learnt, and caused all sorts of calamity early on, but it was public, it worked and I quickly worked out up from down. By the time I stopped developing VirtueDesktops in 2007, I could proudly put my name to an app that many people loved.
I didn’t really stop after that.
What did you do before you created applications?
I have over 10 years professional experience as a web developer and team leader. I coded, designed, managed, cajoled and caressed a massive web site with hundreds of authors, and managed a small, smart development team. Doing web development is my other passion, and I still try to pick up web work where I can – there’s something strangely calming for me about working with web-based technologies.
I’ve also done a lot of work over the years in digital production, and I once started a degree in visual communication (but didn’t see it through).
What led you to create Hyperspaces?
Originally, Hyperspaces was just an experiment. I wanted to know if I could make something like VirtueDesktops work under Spaces when it was released. Most of the calls from Tiger that let Virtue do its thing were still there in Leopard, but some of them had shifted enough to make it more effort than it would have been worth. Virtue had also turned into a kitchen sink product – it did everything. People had setup their entire workflow around features that I didn’t even think belonged in the app. VirtueDesktops was also licensed under the GPL, which meant that it could not be used in commercial or otherwise licensed apps. I’m against viral licenses like the GPL – I believe they work against the free use principles of open source software. You’re either with the license, or you’re against it when you use GPL. That’s just wrong – open source is more about community to me, and it meant that other great apps couldn’t integrate with Virtue.
So I started fresh – building from the ground up. I had two goals in mind when I started:
Whatever I did had to remain as simple as Spaces;
If possible, I wanted to augment Spaces, not replace it. I was not building my own virtual desktop implementation.
After a couple of months investigating and coding some proof of concept versions, I began to realise that there was enough demand to justify an app that people would pay for. So I dug my heels in when I wasn’t at the day job and started writing the shell of what would become Hyperspaces.
What is the story behind your companies name?
It was a joke between me and a few of my workmates:
We all loved Cocoa/Objective-C and the mac;
We also loved Transformers (because they are seriously kick-ass).
Combine Autobots with Cocoa, and you end up with CocoaBots!
It gave me an excuse to walk around the office hollering out “CocoaBots – transform and roll out!” whenever we needed to go to a meeting, get coffee, get lunch… you get the idea.
I liked the way the name sounded, so it stuck.
Where do you find inspiration?
Mainly in the work of my peers. There’s rarely a day that goes by now that I don’t see something that another mac or iPhone developer has done and think “Oh, wow – that is really something new and unique!”. Using an application that has received real love and attention from someone pushing themselves to do better is inspiring to me.
I’m a firm believer in working on things that you will love and use yourself – I’m not interested in writing hundreds of applications for the sake of making money. Being passionate and happy with what I do is far, far more important to me.
I also draw inspiration from beautiful, tactile, digital design that makes your brain explode when you see it. Tumblr has turned into a fantastic haven for the most bizarre and beautiful mix of layout, words and images I’ve ever seen – I’ll often get lost there for an hour or two each week just exploring.
I do the same with Github occasionally – there are so many wonderful pieces of cast-off code that make my life so much easier.
What is your favorite Mac application?
Oh, that’s hard! Do I have to pick one? Here’s a few I absolutely could not live without:
The Hit List – my life is organised in here (Andy, you don’t ever have to update this app – it’s perfect as it is, mate!);
Anything by MacRabbit – Jan’s apps are a major inspiration to me. His codez are perfect;
iChat – I spend most of my waking life on iChat;
Safari – WebKit has single-handedly wiped the floor with all of the other browsers, and it has made developing web sites downright fun.
I could give you a list of utilities that I think everyone should have installed, but we’d be here for days.
What should we look forward to with Hyperspaces?
I have a couple of minor point releases coming this year – I blogged about version 1.1 a month ago, and at this stage I’m still in the process of adding support for setting different customisations for every one of your displays. This is something that should have been there for 1.0, but it wasn’t ready in time. I’m also aiming to localise Hyperspaces to a bunch of different languages, but I expect that’s something that will take a few updates to complete.
Looking at my ‘investigate this’ list for Hyperspaces 1.x in THL, I can see scripting, light/motion/multi-touch input, and Quartz composer backgrounds. There’s a bunch of others too, but I’ve got to have something up my sleeve
Further down the track, I’d really like to introduce some more advanced window and application management features – I’ve sorely missed being able to hover my cursor over a window and flick that window to another space without actually going there. Of course more eye candy These will probably end up being version 2.0 features.
Do you have plans for future applications?
Yes, definitely! I’m currently working on another mac app that the previously-employed-by-the-man me would have loved: something to do with looking after very large web sites. It’s early days for that app right now, so I don’t want to say anything just yet. I’m aiming to have something to show by the middle of the year.
I’ve also got a couple of utilities for the iPad in prototype stage. Stuff I’d use day-to-day to manage my business, but again it’s all very early days! My focus really has been on Hyperspaces lately.
There are other ideas in my multitude of sketch books, but nothing that has grabbed me the way Hyperspaces has (yet).
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Not a problem – it has been a pleasure! Thank you, Daniel.