Interview with John Casasanta of Inventive

by Smaran Dayal Feb 02, 2007

Yesterday, the new version of the popular Mac OS X clipboard app, iClip 4, was released. After being delayed for over a year, it is a welcome upgrade to fans of the software, many of whom have been using the more recently updated iClip lite Dashboard widget.

The developer of iClip and mastermind behind the popular Mac app promotional events, MacHeist & My Dream App, Jon Casasanta, set aside a few minutes after the launch of iClip 4 to talk to us about the new version of his app, Mac development, MacHeist, and all things Apple.

Smaran Dayal: The much awaited upgrade to your clipboard manager, iClip 4, finally launched yesterday. How long has it been in development, and why was it delayed?

John Casasanta: We’ve been working on v4 for over a year and a half. We ran into delays for countless reasons. One is that I completely underestimated the time it’d take to do a completely custom UI and get it to behave as Mac users would expect. Another is that while it was in development, we were growing the company and experienced many “growing pains” along the way. And another is that I’ve been involved with a few side projects that took away time from iClip development.

Smaran Dayal: That would include the very successful MacHeist and My Dream App Mac application events, if I’m correct. But iClip hasn’t been completely left out. Everyone who bought the MacHeist bundle will get iClip 4 for free, correct? Why exactly did you decide to include iClip 4 in the MacHeist bundle, even before it was out of beta? (Apple Matters Interview: Phillip Ryu)

John Casasanta: Correct. The reason I did so was because I knew it’d be a fantastic way to get iClip in front of a potentially huge audience. And based on the success of MacHeist, we definitely did that. One thing that many shareware developers seem to misunderstand is that your potential audience is nowhere near as limited as you may think. We initially predicted around 5,000 MacHeist bundle sales and some developers seem to feel that if you get your app out to that many people, your future sales will dry up. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ultimately, a promotion like MacHeist makes it so that you have thousands of people helping to get your product more exposure via word-of-mouth, which, in my experience, is the most powerful way to get it out there. Basically, if you’re trying to sell consumer software and if your market is limited to around just 5,000 people, you’re pretty much screwed. The good thing is that this generally isn’t the case, and with MacHeist, close to 17,000 bundles were sold in the end. And instead of future sales plummeting for the devs involved, all the ones I’ve spoken with had increases post-MacHeist.

Smaran Dayal: I find iClip immensely useful, but I’m not the average Mac user. How do you think the average user could benefit from iClip 4 and use it to improve his experience on the Mac? By that I mean, how do you plan to market it?

John Casasanta: We pretty much market it as a simple, elegant way to copy multiple things before having to paste them. Even a fairly inexperienced Mac user can see the benefits of an app like iClip if they’ve ever done any copying & pasting. The market is flooded with multiple clipboard apps (it seems like there’s a new one to come out every week). In my opinion, one of the reasons for iClip’s success is that we try to have razor-sharp focus. We make iClip…that’s it. For the past few years, my goal has been to have iClip become the #1 multi clipboard app for the Mac and I strongly feel that our focus has helped us to do that. The problem with this approach is that some companies have a hard time committing to just one project. And it’s easy to see how the wrong project could easily become boring, but thankfully, I really enjoy working on iClip and we’ve made development fun by doing things like the custom UI and such.

Smaran Dayal: I used iClip Lite, your award-winning Dashboard widget, for a long time before finally switching to the actual app, because honestly, the UI was rather unappealing. Now you’ve taken the beautiful look of the widget and implemented it in the app. What’s the story behind that, and who designed the UI?

John Casasanta: Piotr Gajos from Poland is the person responsible for putting the pretty into iClip and our new website. The story behind it can be extremely oversimplified by referencing two books by author Donald Norman. A while back, I read his book, The Design of Everyday Things (which I refer to as the teapot and door handle book). It’s a fantastic book on usability and although I’ve read many books on usability, this one really stuck with me. And in some sense it drove iClip’s early development where form sometimes took a backseat to function. Later on, he wrote a book called Emotional Design, and even though my thinking was already beginning to migrate toward making things look great in addition to working great, reading this later book really solidified this way of thinking for me. For anyone who has the slightest interest in these sorts of things, I can’t recommend these books enough. So getting back to your question, my way of thinking somewhat shifted over time and I now feel that aesthetics need to have their place alongside solid usability. When a good balance is struck, it can do wonders for a product and I feel that we’ve done that with iClip’s redesign. User reaction to the new UI confirms this.

Smaran Dayal: What new features have you added in iClip 4, and how is it better than iClip 3 and the other clipboard managers on the market like PTHPasteboard and QuickSilver’s clipboard plug-in?

John Casasanta: The focus of the iClip 4 release was mainly to take what we’ve built iClip 3 on and make dramatic improvements to what was already there. In the past I would focus on adding features to it but the last version before 3 was a very solid release as far as features went. So we went with the approach of making every existing thing in it look and work as smoothly as possible. And ultimately, that meant actually taking some existing features out. As for how it compares to the competition, I’ll leave that up to the readers to decide. I think it’s good for users to make informed choices about the software they choose to use and there’s no better way to do that then to try out whatever’s available and choose the software that best suits their needs. Some other multi clipboard developers make comparisions to the competition on their sites and it’s virtually impossible to not skew things in the favor of who’s talking about it so I’m taking the vow of silence on this one.

Smaran Dayal: How long have you been developing software for the Mac? And how long have you been a Mac user?

John Casasanta: Since around 1990. My first Mac was a Macintosh Classic. I started development in general around 1981 on an Atari computer.

Smaran Dayal: What kind of work have you done in the past, with regards to Mac development? Have you also developed software for other platforms?

John Casasanta: I’ve done lots of different things over the years. I spent several years being a game developer at various companies and even had my own game company for a while. The first “commercial” app that I wrote was for the Amiga computers back in the mid 80s. It was a paint program called Fun Paint that I spent a year working on and made a whopping $1,000 on it by selling it to a magazine that was bundled with a monthly floppy disk. Even though I worked my ass off on it and made hardly anything for my efforts, it was still one of the most fun development experiences I’ve ever had and it’s one that’s stuck in my mind to this day. I learned a lot by doing it (it was my first major project programming in C).

Smaran Dayal: Do you have any advice for budding Mac developers? Especially newbies like me who created their first text editor a week ago?

John Casasanta: I think that first and foremost, you need to have patience and persistence. Software development can be extremely fun and satisfying. The problem is that it can easily be overwhelming. So you need to take things in small bites. Software development definitely isn’t for everyone but if you have a logical-thinking mind, you should be able to adapt. One thing that I feel is critical is that you’re doing it for the love of it, not because you think you’ll get rich or anything. In my opinion, a great place to start Mac coding is by making Dashboard widgets. They’re really easy to do and the development process scales well as your skills develop. You can start off with simple things that require almost no coding and get decent results. Then you can move on to more advanced JavaScript programming or even get into Cocoa development through plug-ins. And Apple recently made a beta of Dashcode available so it makes getting into widget development even easier. Even though I’m well past my programming prime these days, I still always really enjoy developing the occasional widget.

Smaran Dayal: What do you think the future looks like for Mac developers?

John Casasanta: It’s extremely bright. Apple’s doing better than ever and there’s a constant flood of new Mac users. So long as you put the effort into developing your app to the level of quality that Mac users expect and put in a reasonable effort in your marketing, you stand a decent chance to be able to make a living developing Mac software. And like I mentioned with learning how to program, running a software business requires a ton of patience and persistence. Stick with it, learn from your failures, and you can make it.

Smaran Dayal: Does Apple matter?

John Casasanta: To the faithful, it’s the only company that matters. What other company could have thousands of rabid fans who get up at the crack of dawn and stand in line for hours just to see its leader pitch its wares.

Smaran Dayal: Thanks a lot for your time! iClip 4 is truly a well-designed and useful app. In fact, I’m using it to move this interview into TextEdit and then the Apple Matters CMS.

John Casasanta: Thanks very much for having me on here! It’s really great to see iClip in real-world use.


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