Meet the Developers: Andrew Pepperrell of Alfred App

In today’s interview, I’m talking to Andrew Pepperrell, the developer behind one of my favourite applications of the year—Alfred. This is a fantastic application launcher, and seems to keep growing and expanding every month. It’s certainly been developed with care and attention to detail!

Andrew has taken a few minutes out of his busy day to answer our questions, talk about how Alfred is developed, share his thoughts on the latest Apple developments, and even drop a few hints about what to expect in future versions…

I hope you enjoy the interview!

Tell us a little bit about the Alfred team – where are you based, how many of you are there, and what motivates you as a company?

The team behind Alfred is composed of three people and based in Cambridge, UK. I’m the developer, single-handedly designing and coding Alfred – currently still during evenings and weekends. We’ve got our fingers crossed that, very soon, I’ll be able to make Mac development as my everyday job a reality.

Vero takes care of marketing activities and customer service (and is also my wife) and Anna is the voice behind our demo videos and is now overhauling our help documentation. They also split their time, working on Pepsmedia, where they help other businesses successfully market themselves online.

In the early days, Ollie Kavanagh, who’s a brilliant graphic designer, helped us create the Alfred identity.

Alfred has a really beautiful marketing website

Alfred has a really beautiful marketing website

As someone who uses your Mac all day, every day, do you feel the need to always be running the latest hardware?

As difficult as it is to resist the latest shiny Apple thing, I don’t think running the latest hardware is necessarily the way to go. Our test machine is an old G4 Mac Mini running 10.5 and half of the Alfred development has been done on a four-year-old black MacBook.

That being said, I recently treated myself to a new 13″ MacBook Air, which feels monstrously powerful! Vero owns an iPad, Anna and I have each an iPhone 4 – we do love our gadgets.

What’s your take on the recent announcement of the Mac App Store – do you think it’ll be a “game changer”?

There’s no doubt that the Mac App Store will change the landscape of Mac software, in particular for indie developers.

For users like Mac.AppStorm readers, who already know how to install an app and keep on top of the latest Mac news, it won’t turn their world upside down. On the other hand, there’s a whole new audience of Mac users who will look at alternatives and new software for the first time. Developers who don’t consider the App Store seriously will likely be left behind.

I’m hoping that this new marketplace doesn’t result in a price race to the bottom, with tons of rubbish 99c apps appearing. It’s not a sustainable model and developers who take that route aren’t doing themselves any favours by setting price expectations unrealistically low.

We’re lucky to have such a lively buzzing community who already spread the word about Alfred, yet the App Store will allow us to reach a volume of users we could only otherwise dream of.

As far as I can see, there will continue to be an ecosystem outside of the App Store for certain types of apps, so it’ll be interesting to see how engrained this App Store becomes in comparison to the unavoidable iOS one.

How do you think the addition of “Mission Control” and “LaunchPad” will affect Alfred in OS X Lion?

We think that Alfred complements these very well. The LaunchPad still requires use of the mouse, while Alfred is keyboard and efficiency driven. If most people’s LaunchPads are as messy as Vero’s iPad and iPhone pages, they’ll still need Alfred to simply find the apps!

In particular with the Powerpack, Alfred goes far beyond simply app-launching – file navigation, iTunes control, Clipboard, etc – so we’re confident that users will still find a place on their Mac for us.

Which are the main apps that you use every day, and why?

Xcode, Coda and TextMate are always nearby during development. I use Fireworks for the design and mockups.

I have a love-hate relationship with Tweetie but it remains my Twitter client of choice. Vero prefers Tweetdeck and Anna uses Mixero, so to each their own! For chatting, Adium is often open in the background on all our Macs.

Of course, we’ll also be running the latest build of Alfred, continuing to test it for stability as we use it every day.

Which websites, Twitter users, and magazines do you follow in an effort to stay up-to-date with the activities of other developers, and the Apple eco-system in general?

I’m usually head down coding, with fueling me through the evening. When I do take time to catch up on tech news, my usual reads include I can has cheezburger, failblog…

Joking aside, I enjoy reading Cocoa with Love, AppleInsider, MacRumors, and of course Mac.AppStorm!

Also, a day can’t go by without reading Questionable Content.

For someone interested in developing their very first Mac app, where would you recommend they start?

My biggest piece of advice is to just get XCode and start programming. Find a project or an idea that solves a real problem you’re having and jump right in.

The first book I bought was an earlier edition of Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X by Aaron Hillegass which gives a good understanding of Cocoa. The problem with books is that references go out of date very quickly as XCode gets updates.

As for documentation, most of my time is spent on the Apple developer docs and guides.

I also recommend getting an Objective C and a Patterns book.

Be sure to check out CocoaDev and Cocoa With Love. Finally, make good friends with Instruments, in particular the memory allocations and leaks detection – it’s downright awesome!

Do you have any interesting updates or apps in the pipeline that you can give us a sneak peak at?

Alfred is growing very quickly, something our users seem to love. The next release will contain Address Book integration, a number of improvements to relevancy and knowledge, a fun stats page and much more.

We’re already in the planning stage of creating a second productivity app which will complement Alfred very well. For now, however, we can’t quite give you a sneak preview ;-)

iTunes Improvements in the Latest Version

iTunes Improvements in the Latest Version

Save commonly-accessed snippets easily

Save commonly-accessed snippets easily

Thanks, Andrew!

Thanks to Andrew and Vero for taking the time to answer our questions, and share a little insight behind the scenes of Alfred. I’m thoroughly excited about the new updates and apps in the pipeline, and can’t wait to see what this talented team have in store for us…

If you’ve made it to the end of this interview without opening a new tab to download Alfred, shame on you! Give Alfred a try now—you won’t regret it.

Also be sure to check out their Christmas Calendar, which launched today, giving a trick, tip or treat every day until Christmas!