Creating an iPhone app is one thing, but making something that stands out in an increasingly deep, expansive crowd is something else entirely. And yet Tapbots have managed just that. Describing their trio of apps as “robots for your iPhone and iPod touch,” Tapbots has managed to infuse the most utilitarian of concepts with genuine personality, and this is largely down to playful and innovative interfaces. We caught up with Paul Haddad (“the programmer”) and Mark Jardine (“the designer”) to find out more about how Tapbots was born, the thinking behind its apps, and what their newest creation, Pastebot, can do for your Apple device.
Cult of Mac: Why did you start Tapbots?
Mark Jardine: Paul and I worked for Oakley, Inc. at the time and he asked if I was interested in helping him design a simple weight-tracking app. I thought it would be a great side project and we were curious to see how it would turn out. We looked at the weight-tracking/dieting apps on the App Store and weren’t pleased with them. They were all very utilitarian. Tracking one’s weight isn’t the most enjoyable task and we wanted to see if we could change that with design. We felt if we provided a great user experience, people might enjoy weighing in on a daily basis.
The idea of weight tracking being enjoyable came from using Nintendo’s Wii Fit. That title’s simplicity inspired what we wanted to do with Weightbot. Also, inspiration came from the movie Wall•e. Some of my initial designs resembled Eve and we kept moving forward from there. After much of Weightbot’s design had been figured out, we started thinking of a company name. We loved the idea of each app having a unique personality. From a marketing and brand perspective, this gave us a lot to run with. So the name Tapbots was born and we’ve been able to create our own little world of apps, in the form of robots.
What was the thinking behind Convertbot?
Mark: With the unexpected success of Weightbot, we knew people would be expecting something as good or better with app two. Also, while Weightbot received a lot of praise, not everyone found a weight-tracker useful, so we wanted to make sure our second app would be useful to anyone. A unit converter was a great choice, and those unit converters already on the App Store were very utilitarian. Our goal was to make the most entertaining unit converter possible, with great design and a very satisfying user experience. While some complain that Convertbot is somewhat counter-intuitive, we set our app apart from the crowd and most find it genuinely enjoyable.
A strong interface is clearly important to you, and your apps are fun, playful and have personality. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind this approach and what you’re trying to achieve?
Mark: We’ve built a story around our company. I grew up loving movies, cartoons, anime, comic books, manga, games… you name it. I love storytelling in all forms. Tapbots has been a dream for me in the sense that it’s provided a solid platform to build a story around. Paul and I are the perfect team for this company because Paul loves the same media and we’re able to share this vision. He’s the one who makes our story come to life with our apps.
And when I speak of a story, I’m speaking metaphorically and really mean our concept. Our concept drives everything we do that’s related to Tapbots. Our goal is to build apps that feel mechanical and give the user a sense that they are interacting with something more than just software. We want users to think of software differently, to have some sort of emotional connection to the software we create. When users tell us they bought one of our apps even though they had no real use for it and can’t wait to buy what we come up with next, I feel like we’ve succeeded in our goal.
Pastebot is your latest app—what is it and why did you create it? What can you do with the app?
Paul Haddad: Pastebot is a departure from our previous two applications. Weightbot and Convertbot are very single-purpose applications, but Pastebot is an application that can be used in a number of ways. It was originally envisioned as a clipboard buffer application similar to what already exists on the Mac and Windows platforms. It can be used as a tool for keeping notes, a way to transfer data quickly between the iPhone and Mac, a simple image/text editor, a tool for keeping email templates and more. In the simplest terms, it’s a very powerful tool for managing text and images on your iPhone.
We decided to do Pastebot on the last day of last year’s WWDC conference. We wanted to create an application that was somewhat unique in the App Store and there weren’t any apps that really dealt with the iPhone’s clipboard in a meaningful way.
How are people using the app? Are they using it in ways that have surprised you?
Paul: We asked that question in a blog post, and our users can answer the first part better then we can! As far as what surprised us, I’d say that how useful and popular syncing is. We talked about adding syncing support to Pastebot from the beginning, but it wasn’t our main focus for the app. However as we implemented syncing and started working with it we found that it added an entire extra level of functionality to the application. We ended up being very happy with how the feature ended up and I think most of our users would agree.
What are your plans for the future regarding iPhone development?
Paul: We’re currently in the midst of upgrading all our apps. We learn a lot about what works and doesn’t with each new application we create, and we’re using those lessons to update Convertbot and Pastebot. Once we’re done with those, we’re going to do an upgrade to Pastebot to add some features we didn’t have time to get into the first release. Then we’ll start working on our next app. We currently have four or five strong ideas to choose from and both Mark and I have our own front-runners. If it’s anything like our past application, we’ll decide at the last minute and just go full steam ahead!