Just when I was sitting down to do a quick tutorial I saw a tweet that picquet my interest. Something about “Pieceable Viewer Runs iPhone Apps From Your Browser”. While the text is utter nonsense it was still tempting and so I clicked through.
Much to my amazement I found that this company Pieceable just launched the equivalent of online demos that we iOS developers where eying with jealousy on some Android app store. Just recently we heard that since Android was essentially Java you could basically also run these apps in the browser, provided you had the appropriate frameworks available.
For iOS apps we had to make due with screen shots and the occasional screencast grabbed from the simulator. Pieceable promises to change all that.
Basically you do a quick simulator build, I chose Debug, but it probably does not matter. Then you change into your build folder and upload this app to Pieceable with a single line sh command.
ditto -cj Summertime.app - | curl -F "firstname.lastname@example.org" -F "file=@-" http://www.pieceable.com/view/publish
The first time around the process fails because you still need to confirm your e-mail address which did not work for my primary e-mail which has very tight spam protection. But when I switched to my gmail address, I eventually received the confirm link.
Then you get a response reminiscent of an old buletin board system.
___ _ _ _ / _ (_) ___ ___ ___ __ _| |__ | | ___ / /_)/ |/ _ \/ __/ _ \/ _` | '_ \| |/ _ \ / ___/| | __/ (_| __/ (_| | |_) | | __/ \/ |_|\___|\___\___|\__,_|_.__/|_|\___| . Application loaded! Name: Summertime ID: com.drobnik.Summertime Size: 0.19M SHA: defa6da06ccdb12d8b8a86080093d769a50d8047 URL: http://www.pieceable.com/view/ci/defa6da06ccdb12d8b8a86080093d769a50d8047
You can try it out with your own apps, in the free mode the app link will stay alive for one hour. They also have several ready-to-try demos on their homepage, but I uploaded my small app Summertime to try it out with something I knew. And the experience is quite astonishing really. You get the full app, can control it with a finger-sized cursor and you even see functioning in-app e-mail forms.
How do these guys pull of such a magic trick? It kind of feels like you’re remote controlling an iOS simulator via VNC. The frame rate is way lower than what you’d get on the OpenGL-accelerated device or even software-rendered simulator. Also I don’t think it to be feasible to somehow transcompile the app into something that can really run in a browser. The final clue can be found on their “Introductory Pricing” table. The free pricing allows for one simultaneous viewer of the app, basic 3 and pro 10. So something must force Pieceable to have it all reside on a server cluster.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that they probably have a Mac server farm running hundreds if not thousands of iOS simulators. Somehow this reminds me of the Matrix, where something is perverted into nodes of a gigantic grid to serve their master overlords.
But it gets the job done. In the past I often found that I had to record a screencast and narrate in-progress development apps just to discuss with the customer. I could also send somebody a simulator build, but when dealing with n00bs you don’t want to have to explain to them how to install Xcode and how to get the app bundle into the right location. And then this solution would only work on Macs, the majority of the world still runs Windows. (Unfortunately)
Pieceable for the first time allows me to send somebody a link to try out what I have built. This reduces the required knowledge on the side of agencies, customers et al to 1) ability to use a mouse and 2) skillful clicking on an e-mailed link. I love to have this option.
There’s one drawback, the Pieceable Viewer requires Flash. Which is somewhat ironic taking the past tensions between Apple and Adobe. Either it is easier to emulate an iOS environment in Flash or Pieceable chose it over Java to avoid dipping into technology which is even less freely available. You know, with Google being sued an all. Apple might tolerate the Flash implementation, but hell knows no fury like a Steve Jobs seeing iOS apps run on Java.
But this is really a non-issue giving that the viewer does not actually run the app but instead just provides a user-friendly window to a simulator running on their servers. The general boo-booing of the use of Flash is only occurring in circles of iOS geeks. We were hoping for some sort of real magic, but knowing how it’s done kinda destroys the illusion.
The real drawback is a problem of scalability. Pieceable consciously decided not to target app developers with big websites to demo their app to the common public. Instead they are focussing on Agencies, Organizations, Presenters and Investors to have them use their service to give one-to-one or one-to-few demonstrations.
It is unlikely that we will see a plan that could handle thousands of simultaneous sessions of apps for the reasons stated above. But this decision of to cater for a specific niche makes much business sense as it avoids the potential bottleneck and only deals with groups of people who are willing to pay for such a service because it makes their lives easier.
Pieceable Software was founded by Fred Potter and Chris Stewart in early 2010 and they are based in San Francisco. After one year of work on this service they have something fascinating to show for it. In the least they got the Twitterverse talking about their magic.