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Ryan Britton of Portfolio interviewed

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In my ongoing series of interviews with creators of iPad portfolio Apps, is Portfolio creator, Ryan Britton.

Britton Photography is a Spokane, WA-based wedding and portrait photography studio. It’s run by myself and Amy — I’m the technical one of the two and have been writing software since the early ‘90s. We’ve been doing photography together for about five years now and have been steadily growing both in revenue and the number of shoots we do each year.

Portfolio can be found at any of the links below:

Website, iTunes UK, iTunes US, Facebook, Twitter

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So with my first question, what gave you the inspiration to write Portfolio?

The app that came first was actually our custom studio app found here: http://britton-photography.com/app. I wanted a way for those of our customers with iPads to be able to view their photos right on their iPad, and it was also sort a separator between us and the local competition.

The image viewer I built for our app became the initial image viewer in Portfolio. The idea behind it was that there might be a want for an app that could be branded as your own to show your photos and there was.

Are you a photographer?  Tell us a bit about yourself or the Portfolio team.

My name is Ryan Britton. Amy and I own and operate Britton Photography in Spokane, WA. I’m the sole developer and support person of Portfolio.

How have you found the work load?  Must be character building to say the least.  How have you found yourself responding to app development while answering support emails?

The worst support load I’ve had to date was with the iOS 4.2 release. There were a couple APIs that Apple changed and did not maintain backwards compatibility, most notably with the media chooser. Many people had not updated to the version of Portfolio that added a fix for that yet since it was approved very close to the 4.2 release date.

Overall I probably only average about 0-4 emails per day, many of which can be answered by just sending an address to the appropriate section on Portfolio’s site. It’s not a huge amount by any means.

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How easy was it to code in order to create Portfolio?  How long did it take to get Portfolio to Version 1?

It took about two weeks to create version 1.0 of Portfolio from the components already written for our studio app.

Do you write any other Apps for iOS?

Our studio app, and I’m also working on another photo-centric app as time permits.

Will you write other Apps for iOS devices? More importantly, photography related ones.

Absolutely. My ideas for apps far outnumbers the amount of time I have to build them. Operating a photo business has given me valuable inside information on what’s needed.

Care to share what these other Apps will be about?

Studio stuff mainly. I’ve had a decent number of inquiries about personalized studio apps that can tie into proofing systems like our own. I would like to look into the possibility of developing a service for that. Other ideas include one for studio management with support for invoicing, contracts, and all that comes with that territory.

Did you release Portfolio before iOS 4.2? Did coding for iOS 4.2 make much of a difference compared to iOS 3.2?

Portfolio was released around iOS 3.2.1. The major effects of iOS 4.2 were in memory management and backwards compatibility. The multitasking in iOS 4.2 has made the memory usage needed to load in large images even more of a tricky task than in iOS 3.2. It has also broke a number of things internally by changing their behavior, such as with the media picker. In iOS 3.2, the media picker returned the path to a file whereas in iOS 4.2 it returns image data, breaking any app that expected a file path.

How long did it take to write Portfolio?

I really have no idea. I’ve been working on it near-daily since late July 2010, but more of that has been spent designing how a particular feature works than actually coding it. My number one goal of any feature is that it should be absolutely optional and not in the way of anyone who doesn’t want it.

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Where do you want to take Portfolio with future updates, where do you see yourself in a years time?

I want to take it to a level of polish that’s probably present in only 5% of the apps currently on the app store. I spend huge amounts of time finessing the memory usage of Portfolio trying to avoid the iPad’s memory watchdog — a memory watchdog kill is indistinguishable from an actual crash to the average user. Unfortunately, the amount of memory you’re “allowed” to use is very arbitrary and not at all consistent across launches, so the only solution is to use as little as possible.

I would like to see another iPad and Portfolio adapted to fit its limits by this point next year. The limits of the current model are one of the only things keeping some of the size limits in place.

What do you as a Developer/Photographer want to see in the next iPad, either to aid your Apps or just for your own pleasure?

More memory. 256 MB is totally insufficient for loading more than a single high-resolution image into memory at one time. It would allow me to do smarter preloading, increase the maximum image size, and overall avoid the memory kills that occur every so often now.

I’m surprised by how little memory there is inside the iPad, more so when I hear from developers about the limitations they have to work with because of it.  I’m sure that’s a challenge for you and I’m sure version 2 of the iPad will address this, but would you believe Apple limited the memory for a later upsell on the newer version?

I don’t think it was necessarily a deliberate action on their part to push sales for the second revision. I think it was more that the iPad had been in development for so long that 256 MB was entirely reasonable at the time, but once it finally approached release it was too late to change it.

I also don’t think they anticipated how popular it would be for photo work. Given that there is no general color management support in iOS at all and not huge interest on their part yet to add it, I think that supports that theory.

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How do you see this market developing as we go forward?  Are you concerned about the ‘race to the bottom’ and copycat apps affecting this class of applications?

I can see it continuing along the same path of getting more saturated — there are already at least twice as many similar apps to Portfolio as there were when it first launched. It’s a moving target though, and every day I keep improving it is another day of catchup that a copycat would have to put in.

Are you a one man operation or is this a group effort?

It’s just me, but I have a number of friends I bounce ideas and designs off of and Amy is the perpetual guinea pig.

Where are you based and where have you seen the greatest uptake of Portfolio at the moment?

I am in Spokane, WA. The largest uptake of Portfolio has been with photographers, but I’ve also seen feedback from videographers, florists, designers, plastic surgeons, salespeople, and many other professions I never expected.

Plastic surgeons and florists?

Yep. The app is generic enough that I’ve actually had feedback from a number of professions that aren’t photographers. Much of it I’ve turned into small tweaks here and there that make the app more suitable for their use while also enhancing the photographer experience.

I found the built in Photo Application rather lacking for a Pro Photographer, others will feel it’s good enough. Were you concerned of your App’s uptake by other Photographers before committing yourself to creating Portfolio?

Nope. I created Portfolio 1.0 because I had most of the work already done as a result of our studio app. I figured that anything made on that would just be extra pocket change. It far surpassed that point within the first week and hasn’t stopped since.

Can you explain anything about the creation process behind your app? Did you involve other photographers or even editors to ask what they would want in a digital portfolio that attempts to replicate the printed portfolio and presentation?

I made what I wanted. Since that initial release, dozens and dozens of people have sent feedback and wish lists for it and I’ve listened. Many have been ideas I already had plans for, others have been ones I’d never considered but loved, and others yet have been ones that didn’t quite make sense for this app but do make sense for the other one currently under development.

Finally, how do you see Portfolio existing alongside a traditional portfolio?  I think such presentation apps done right are good enough to replace the printed portfolio.  If the photography is good enough then it won’t matter how they are presented.

I see this as sort of the paper book/e-reader debate. For me personally, I love the tactile feel and the look of an actual printed book — reading on a screen just isn’t the same. But there are certain classes of information where a printed book is not practical or even viable. I think it’s the same with a printed vs. digital portfolio: people want to still see and touch and feel a quality wedding album or a print on photo rag paper because the actual object itself is just as important for the overall experience as the photos.

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