TED’s iPad App: Q&A with developer Matt Drance

Posted by: Emily McManus

TED iPad App developer Matt Drance.

The TED iPad project was inspired by a number of requests coming in from TED fans wishing to see TEDTalks on mobile devices. In the past, the development community has graciously volunteered building various applications on both iPhone and Android platforms. When the iPad came out, we saw an opportunity to try our hand with our first foray into mobile platform development. The larger screen real estate of the iPad is a promising feature for viewing TEDTalks. We were also excited about what users may want to do with the content in offline mode, as well as what a TEDTalk playlist could look like. With assistance from OjingoLabs in the preliminary design stages and Matt Drance from BookhouseSoftware on final delivery, we hope we’ve brought to life a product that enables our fans to enjoy TED beyond the browser experience.

Matt took some time off from his busy day of coding to share with us thoughts on the project from behind the scenes.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: how did you come to be in the iPhone development space, and perhaps a glimpse into one shining moment in your career?

I grew up on Long Island, and I’ve been professionally involved in software development since I moved to California in 1999, with most of that time spent at Apple. I was the Application Frameworks Evangelist while the iPhone SDK was initially rolled out, which was obviously a tremendous learning opportunity. I helped companies build the first few generations of iPhone apps day in and day out until I decided to go off on my own and try life on the other side of the fence.

I think the decision to go independent has certainly been a shining moment for me. I loved every moment of my time at Apple, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, but I think everyone dreams of doing their own thing, and that journey has been incredibly rewarding. It’s working out wonderfully so far, which certainly helps. This project has definitely been a highlight, and I’m sure it will continue to be for a long time.

When you were working on the TED iPad App, was there an a-ha moment, a breakthrough during the process that you’d like to talk about?

You need big obstacles to have big breakthroughs, and thankfully there were not many of those with this first release. Once I got familiar with the project in its then-current state, everything was pretty smooth. It’s been fun all the way through.

What feature are you most excited about with this app?

I’m really excited about the playlist browser, which you can see in the Inspire Me section or by tapping the info button when you’re watching a saved talk. It gives you some insight on what you’re about to watch before you watch it, and it’s just generally cool to play with. Thaniya Keereepart from TED had a great idea and it was a lot of fun to bring that to life.

What feature do you think will be a favorite among TED fans?

My money’s on Saved Talks. The ability to hold onto some videos for offline viewing when I’m on a plane or train, or otherwise offline, is awesome. You can get quite a few hours queued up. I also think people will like discovering new content through the Inspire Me feature. I know I had a ton of eye-opening experiences while building and testing it. I never thought I’d learn so much staring at my iPad for hours at a time!

What were a few of the tools that you used, and would you like to give some shout-outs?

The standard SDK tools of course: Xcode, Interface Builder, Instruments, Pixie, etc. We used git for source control, which really is a joy. (As much “joy” as source control can be at least.) For graphics work, I used Photoshop and a great, inexpensive Mac tool called Opacity.

I also think Apple’s Preview app is really underrated for rapid cuts and crops, and inspecting the app’s appearance. I take screenshots of the iPhone Simulator with the control key held down, which puts the image on the clipboard. Then I fire up Preview, hit Cmd-N to create a new image containing the screenshot, and take a close look at the elements on screen: their alignment, their distance from the edges, their color values, and more. When I’m done, I just close the window without saving, and I don’t have to chase down or delete any files. You can get a lot done in Preview, and it launches in about a second.

I definitely need to thank my old friend Ken Hill for introducing me to TED and kicking all this off. Mark Bogdanoff and Thaniya at TED have been amazing to work with throughout.

What would be a radical idea for TED to adopt on the mobile platform moving forward?

I’d really like to see something that provided TED content related to current events or headlines. A lot of the topics discussed at TED are timely if not ahead of their time. Jeff Han’s multitouch demo from 2006, a full year before the iPhone was introduced, is a great technology example, and there are plenty in the social and political spheres as well. It’s more an editorial challenge than a technical one, but it would be a great way for people to discover the amazing breadth of talks that TED has made available.

Along the same lines, I think there’s enough content at this point to provide some location awareness. You could point users to talks about issues in the user’s area, or maybe just a great talk by a person who lives / works / grew up nearby. It’s a way of inspiring people to step up and do something great themselves, by showing them something close to home.

Comments (19)

  • Carlo Volpones commented on May 12 2013

    My IPAD iOS 6.1 TED app version 2100 begin yesterday to crash, after working OK for weeks. May I be addressed to the right people to report this bug? Thanks

  • Sachita Nishal commented on Mar 7 2013

    How can I transfer the saved talks to my PC?

  • James Hogg commented on Nov 11 2011

    Firstly congratulations on one of my favourite IPad Apps. Love to download talks for viewing at Blood Bank where wireless devices must be off. However, after last update all the old saved talks simply show “No Internet Connection…” when I try to play them. They still say “This talk has already been saved” when click on Save Talk. New downloads work fine however. I had to delete and reload the old talks I still wanted for offline viewing. Not critical, but annoying for anyone who had a bunch of talks ready for a flight or similar.
    Also a vote for some type of tagging system for talks I’ve watched and being able to search only talks I have not seen.

  • Stephen Albert commented on Oct 24 2011

    Over the last month or so I’ve also been unable to download and view talks offline. It used to work fine so something must have been changed in one of the updates. One of the updates wiped out all of the saved talks that I had on my ipad. Perhaps that was the problem update. The talks show in my saved talks but when I try to play one I’m told that i’m not connected to the internet so clearly the talk has not been saved. I see that i’m not the only one having problems downloading talks to ipad. Is there a fix coming?

  • Hans-Christian Prytz commented on Oct 7 2011

    Offline viewing sies not work reliably on my ipad2.
    After downloading talks, I can view one talk, but that’s it.
    If I try to view more of the ones saved locally, I either get a black screen with the spinning “wheel” or just a black screen (if I’m online with 3G)
    or a message saying “No Internet connection. You appear to be offline. Please try again later”
    (when I’m offline).
    This sort of defeats the purpose of the app I think.

    Spes anyone else have this problem?

  • Kevin Shimamoto commented on Sep 24 2011

    Saving talks for off-line viewing on my iPad2 takes a long time. Often the download is not completed at all or appears to be completed but there is no video to go along with the audio. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to considerably speed up the download?

  • derek stephens commented on Sep 20 2011

    very funny @ steven klein ha.

    I love apps! I am currently involved with : iphone app development, iphone app developer, ipad app development, and android app development and I just think that this is the future.

    Of course all apps have a period of getting the kinks out so to speak or finding workarounds but apps are hot and will probably stay that way.

  • Gopal R commented on May 30 2011

    I wanted to know that how much time it took for the developer team to develop this application?

  • Phillip Ohme commented on Feb 16 2011

    @Matt Drance, not sure if you are still listening here but it struck me today that leveraging our non-mobile TED world could go a long way to increasing use, and usefulness of the iPad app. Specifically, I am reading my TED weekly email and there is a video that catches my eye. But no time right now to watch, so let me queue it up in my iPad app so I see it (am maybe already have it cached) when I later kick back and relax with my iPad. See the “Later” feature in Vimeo for inspiration. Nice work on the app sir–it is gorgeous!

  • rasoul farddoust commented on Jan 5 2011

    Speeding ideas, that’s the slogan and I’m so surprised on the iPad app their is no social/share feature, I want to tweet,facebook,email etc what I like and share it with my friends.

    Such a simple feature missing can’t be accidental, please update this app

  • Kelly Arrey commented on Dec 4 2010

    +1 to John-Andrew’s request for history tracking.


  • John-Andrew Kambanis commented on Nov 2 2010

    Also would be nice to search a video by topic, key word, or speaker. These are available on the website, but not on the IPAS app.

    The app is one of my favorites in terms of content. Looking forward to more features!

  • John-Andrew Kambanis commented on Nov 2 2010

    It would be nice if the app would track history – or last viewed. After I watch a great topic, sometimes I cannot find it again. It would also be helpful if we could continue a partially viewed video.

  • Bruce Daniel commented on Oct 25 2010

    Why aren’t you supporting “video out” capability so I am able to hook up iPad to the TV? This seems like a no brainer and I was disappointed not to be able to share videos with my family on the TV.

  • buck bruce commented on Oct 19 2010

    I don’t know why it’s so slow, but a single talk seems to take 10-15 minutes to transfer through the backup system (using USB2.0). It’s at least an order of magnitude slower than transfers of movies or podcast video going the other way .

  • Garth Snyder commented on Oct 15 2010

    The app is stunning – gorgeous work.

    Unfortunately, Apple’s system for backing up private app data through iTunes conspires to ruin the Saved Talks feature. I don’t know why it’s so slow, but a single talk seems to take 10-15 minutes to transfer through the backup system (using USB2.0). It’s at least an order of magnitude slower than transfers of movies or podcast video going the other way (from iTunes on the host computer to the iPad).

    I’m not sure if everyone sees this “slow backups” problem on their iOS devices, but I do know that it’s a common complaint with several different apps.

    In the grand scheme of things this isn’t a huge deal. But, it does put a damper on my excitement to have to mentally schedule syncs in advance because they’ll take hours to complete.

  • Steven Klein commented on Oct 15 2010

    The photo shows two people. Which on is Matt Drance?

  • commented on Oct 15 2010

    I learned something about screen shots in that. I’ve been launching Preview first, then choosing to take a screen shot from the File Menu, which also saves a file only if you want.

    Good willpower by Matt not to keep smooching the top of that baby’s head for the picture.

  • Lin Mu commented on Oct 15 2010

    Not working on my iPad. Will not play videos. Will say it is downloading but then will not play.
    Please fix this.