August 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Interview with iOS Pioneer and Bjork App Developer Max Weisel (Part Two)

This is the second part of a two-part interview. If you missed the first part, it’s here.

Max Weisel, Develoe: I convinced three of my friends from Tucson to drop out and move out here with me. I said, “I’ll give you a job for the first few months. I know we all want to do our own thing and no one wants to be working for the other person, because it’s hard to remain friends.” But I convinced them to drop out, and we’re out here now. We’re in a house in South San Francisco, because the real estate’s cheaper for a four-bedroom rental. We take the BART up. It’s a lot of fun — an experience to say the least. That’s great. Let’s talk more about your song apps (which was released since this interview took place), and the process of developing it for the world’s first app album (Biophilia).

Weisel: I’ve sort of fallen in love with it. Part of that is the fact that I’ve been watching these apps and the music develop. When we were first contacted, [Björk's] music was at this very raw stage. Getting new tracks and hearing everything develop and watching these concepts mature, you get this deep appreciation for where all the different features are from. This app has this functionality because six month ago, we tried something else and it failed, or it didn’t work how we expected. It’s just cool to see where all the fine details spawned from. I consider Biophilia to be a major development. It reminds me of when Radiohead did their big In Rainbows thing of letting people pick their own price for the album. Since then, we’ve seen lots of progress made in free/paid combinations, but at the time, there were all these articles about how this might be a good model for other bands to follow. Finally, Radiohead’s manager said something like “this was a good idea for Radiohead on that particular Tuesday, and this is not something every band should do.”

Artists are different. Something on the level of what Björk has done, and you guys, and the whole team, even from what I’ve already seen, is pretty incredible, but is this something that lots of bands will be doing a year from now? Or does it take someone like Björk who’s going to send you early versions of tracks, and collaborate on that level?

Weisel: Collaboration is definitely a huge aspect of a project like this. If we were to release an app without any feedback along the way, you wouldn’t get this sense that it’s actually something from Björk. I’m sure this is something other bands will probably want to do, but [it will only work for] the ones that are more focused on the art behind their music. A lot of mainstream stuff doesn’t fit as well, because those albums are just sets of songs, versus songs that match together and have a similar theme. It’s funny, in a way — this might be considered the most digital of all music formats, and yet it’s the one that most resembles the old album experience, in a way.

Weisel: Yeah, it’s quite interesting, actually. That was the whole goal, that this was going to be the app of that album. What else are you noticing in the music app scene? There’s this approach, which is very awesome, arty, scientific, and musical, and but it seems like there are so many ways to do it. What other developments do you see as interesting?

Weisel: Um, there’s a lot that’s fairly interesting. One thing that I’m really excited about in one of the [Biophilia] apps, although it might not be in the final version, which switches to a 3D side view of what you’re drawing. Doing 3D on the iPad and the iPhone, it’s really hard to get nice edges on everything. Stuff looks pretty jagged. So I made this system that, when you go to transform into 3D, it converts everything into 3D and then back to 2D, and draws it very nicely. It’s almost, like, simulated 3D. I don’t think anyone would ever notice the difference if you do it right. It gives me the data back in 2D form from all the different angles that you need to look at. That sounds clever.

Weisel: There’s full-screen anti-aliasing software that smooths out everything, but it’s really expensive. I feel like this system, at least for the app it’s being introduced in, makes a lot of sense. A lot of people think they have a good idea for an app, if only they could get it made. Having taught yourself how to do this, how realistic do you think that dream is?

Weisel: I don’t think it’s actually that hard to make apps, especially with the newer version of the iOS SDK. If it’s more of an informational app, Apple has a lot of user interface stuff built for you, so it’s sort of plug-and-play. Then you just have to write the code that deals with the content.

The hardest part is coming up with a decent idea. There are now like 300,000-something apps in the app store, so what I say to all my friends is: If you can come up with an app idea, then I’ll split revenue with you 50-50 and build it for you, if it’s a good idea that hasn’t been done yet.

Unless you have some sort of content that no one else has — like in Björk’s case — almost everything has been done. It’s the ideas that are becoming more valuable, in my opinion.