Meet the Developers: Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory

Today’s interview is with Gedeon Maheux, Principal / Designer at the Iconfactory team. World-renowned for their design work, the Iconfactory offer thousands of free icons, Mac and iOS software, royalty-free stock icons, and much more.

We’ll be talking about the history of the Iconfactory, why the company started developing software, how Gedeon believes this has changed their identity, the Twitter client ecosystem, and hearing about a brand new application called “Flare”!

I hope you enjoy the interview!

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

The Iconfactory was started back in April of 1996 as a hobby between our three founding members: Corey Marion, Talos Tsui and myself. Today, the Iconfactory has grown to 13 people and has offices both in the US (Greensboro, NC) and Stockholm, Sweden.

Our original motivation for the company was to create a business where software companies and developers could go to get the very best quality icons and graphics for their projects. That’s still a goal today, along with our continuing efforts to make awesome software for the iPhone, iPad and Mac.

As a company that started out in the field of icon design, what originally persuaded you to make the transition across to software development, and how did this come about?

We had been developing software for the Macintosh platform since 1998, so it wasn’t a stretch to expand into Apple’s iPhone space. As soon as the phone was announced, we knew we wanted our puzzle game, Frenzic on the platform.

We petitioned Apple to allow native software development on the device right from the beginning. Apple’s response to that and other developer requests at the time were the web apps, and we did indeed make a limited version of Frenzic for the web, but it wasn’t the same as being able to code a native version.

Then Apple announced the SDK, and we knew we were going to get Frenzic on the phone. The game was released and was a huge success back in the early days of the App Store.

In the interim, Twitterrific took off and that became our main focus. Our early efforts on the iPhone were very successful and helped us create an entire suite of apps for the iPhone and now the iPad. We couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out.

How do you feel that the identity of the Iconfactory has changed as you gradually become more associated with applications such as Twitteriffic, and less so with icon design?

That’s a great question and one that is a win/win for us. We used to be known simply for the outstanding icon design we provided to Microsoft, Palm and others, and over the last few years have transitioned to being known for our iApps, which is just great.

As long as our customers see us as providing the “very best of” in a certain category, we’re doing our job. We’ll always be known for our icon design work – it helps pay the bills, and it’s what we’re best at. Software development has been our love for a long time and it’s now what gives us the most joy.

We’ve been designing icons for over 15 years and there are only so many globes, email envelopes and magnifying glasses you can draw :-)

Of all the products, applications and projects featured on the Iconfactory over the past 15 years, which have you enjoyed the most, and felt the greatest pride in being a part of?

It may sound like I’m dodging the question, but the one we love the most is the one we’re currently working on. Whatever app has focus for us at the moment is our favorite. When we’re working on Twitterrific, we enjoy that work immensely. When we were working on Astronut, that was by-far my favorite.

We always throw ourselves into what we do so much that it becomes our passion until it’s done and out the door. That being said, Twitterrific always has a special place in our heart.

Which aspect of the Mac software industry excites you the most, and equally, which areas do you find frustrating?

The most exciting and frustrating parts are one and the same – The Mac App Store. On the one hand we’re thrilled about Apple’s decision to bring the ease of use and purchasing of the App Store to Mac customers. It represents a huge new market that will undoubtedly be great for developers and users alike. The potential there is almost limitless.

On the other hand, the store is hampered by the process itself. With slow review times, the inability to communicate directly with customers, no demo versions, not being able to issue refunds and so on.

Apple has been improving the store experience since its inception, and we’re positive it will continue to do so, but there are times when getting apps approved and onto the App Store seems like a Herculean task.

How do you feel that the free release of Twitter for Mac/iPhone has affected this niche of software, and is it still viable to earn a decent income from a third party, commercial Twitter client?

It’s certainly still viable, but every day that goes by the Twitterverse changes and morphs. Twitter has demonstrated to developers that now that they’re established, they are very focused on providing a consistent, unified and official channel for their users to interact with their service.

Twitterrific is a gorgeous Twitter client...

Twitterrific is a gorgeous Twitter client...

Their stance towards third party developers has changed, and some would say has even become a bit hostile. When they announced the decision to buy Tweetie and that they were going to release an official client, they hinted that makers of third party twitter clients should, in-effect, start to think about doing something else.

We’re not at that point yet, thankfully. We fully believe there isn’t a “one app fits all” approach to Twitter, and our users seem to agree. If you build a better Twitter client, at least for now, they will still come.

Do you feel the need to always be running the latest hardware for design and development, or do you prefer to run a simpler, portable setup?

We always have the latest hardware to design and test on naturally, but we also have all of the older devices around for this purpose as well. Whenever you’re building software it’s easy to get carried away and think that the majority of users are on the latest, best hardware but that’s certainly not the case.

If your stuff works good on older devices, nine times out of ten it works awesome on the latest hardware. That’s the way we like it, whenever possible at least.

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

Easy question in the form of a shameless plug. Check out iPhone App Development: The Missing Manual by our very own Craig Hockenberry.

The book walks new developers through the entire process of creating an app from start to finish and it’s written in plain, easy to understand language.

Craig did a wonderful job on it and it really is one of the best places to start researching for new iPhone and iPad devs.

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

We’re continuing to work on Twitterrific for both iOS and now the new Mac version. We have some exciting updates coming there so stay tuned.

We’re also working on a brand new Mac application called Flare that you’ll be hearing more about in the next few weeks. It’s being developed with Wolfgang Ante of ARTIS Software, the creator of xScope, and promises to be one of our most exciting pieces of software for consumers and photographers alike.

You’ll have to check it out, so be sure to follow @iconfactory on Twitter for the latest news on Flare and all our other products. We have lots of exciting software developments this year, and these are only the beginning.

Thanks so much!

Thanks, Gedeon!

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to contribute, and we wish you all the best with the future success of all your apps!