Meet Dave Howell from Avatron

Meet a developer, this week we meet Dave Howell, CEO of Avatron Software

This week's interview will be with Dave Howell from Avatron Software.
First, please take a moment to introduce yourself and Avatron.

Hi. I'm Dave Howell, CEO of Avatron Software.

What is your role at the Avatron?
In 2008, after six years as a senior engineering manager at Apple, I left to found Avatron.

What is the size of the Avatron?
We have ten full-time employees, plus a number of contractors. Three of us are former Apple employees.

We're growing, with three open positions for a senior Windows engineer, a senior iOS engineer, and a tester.

What is the Idea of the Avatron's business (self publishing, services, etc)?
We are focused on producing our own apps. But we have also done some contract work and some work with partners as well. After producing about fifty apps with partners who provided content in the form of audio, video clips, and reference PDFs, we have been winding down the partner work. And for contract work we are trying to narrow our range down to apps directly related to our own apps. That ensures that we're the best qualified team to do the work we take on.

What platforms do you develop for?
So far we've released apps on iOS, Mac, and Windows. But we're getting into Android and Samsung's bada now.

How many Apps has Avatron published?
Almost sixty. Our own apps are under the name Avatron Software. The apps we produced with partner content are under the label Avatron Publishing and also under partner labels.

What was your flagship app that you think brought you/Avatron to the limelight
In September 2008, we released Air Sharing. We made it free for the first two weeks. During that period, a million people downloaded the app. We got a lot of attention among bloggers, technical journalists, and the mainstream press then. The momentum continued after we began to charge for Air Sharing. Air Sharing was the only app that Apple featured twice as App of the Week. Its icon was in all of the Apple Stores, all over WWDC, in Apple's TV ads, and in the big full-page Apple ads in newspapers and magazines.

Which is your favourite app amongst all your apps?
Air Display is my favorite right now, because it solves a real problem—increasing usable screen space while using a laptop. We are thoroughly enjoying the enthusiasm that mobile users are expressing for Air Display. It's also my favorite because its underlying technology lies in frameworks that give us wonderful possibilities for future features and future apps. Our engineering team

What is your favourite app that you have not created?
Our next one. Under the surface, it's a cousin of Air Display, but it solves an entirely different problem. Watch for this one! I'm also excited about another app we have in progress that is related to Air Sharing.

What is your favourite device (Computer & Phone) and why?
The iPhone 4 is incredible. It's such a tiny device, but compared to my big old first Mac (which was my favorite device in 1984), it has 350% as many pixels, 8 million times as many colors, 4100% of the memory, has three network adapters (Wi-Fi, 3G, and Bluetooth) instead of zero, and 12,500% the CPU speed. And an amazing graphic coprocessor and a modern operating system. Funny that it's based on Unix, which was already ancient when the Mac 128K came out. I wouldn't have predicted that.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Air Display?
Sure. Air Display lets you use an iPad as a wireless second—or third or fourth—monitor for a Mac or Windows computer. You just run a little installer on your computer, launch Air Display on your iPad, and then use our very simple UI to connect the two. Then you can just drag windows from your computer onto your iPad and use them as you would on any other display. But besides being a lot more portable than a wired monitor, Air Display also lets you use the touchscreen to interact with your computer windows. You can even rotate the screen into landscape or portrait orientation, depending on what kind of document you're looking at.

So now, if you have an iPad, instead of blowing a few hundred dollars for wired monitor or even a USB display, you can just buy a inexpensive iPad app. In fact, we've heard from a lot of people who have purchased an iPad just for running Air Display.

Air Display has been getting terrific press. We couldn't be happier with how it's being received. We've also ported the Air Display app to the Mac, so now you can use an one Mac as a second monitor for another Mac or for a Windows machine. We're working on other ports as well, including Windows, Android, and bada.

What was the inspiration for the app?
A multi-monitor configuration simply make you more productive. When you have two or three displays, you spend more time getting work done and less moving windows around and managing your screen real estate. At Avatron, we all use multiple displays. And when we go mobile, we are frustrated by trying to work on a small laptop screen. It turns out that the iPad screen is a really fantastic computer monitor. The colors are brilliant, the viewing angle is broad. So we decided to develop an app that lets us go multi-monitor in a coffee shop or hotel. I'm really thrilled with the results.

What are the main categories your apps are in? (Games/Utilities/etc)
Utilities, Productivity, Business. Our contract and partner apps have been in Games, Medical, Sports, Travel, Reference, and Lifestyle.

Do you advertise for any apps you have published? What was the outcome/results
We have tried lots of different advertising methods. It's really hard to measure the results, particularly because we don't collect any analytics. But for us, the most successful method of getting attention has been developing apps that sufficiently intriguing that people want to write about them in their blogs, magazines, and tweets, and demo them on television or YouTube.

When did you start development?
Over thirty years ago.

How did you get into Development? What attracted you to this?
I started programming in BASIC on a PDP 11 at the University of Toledo in the seventies. We had ticker tapes, punch cards, and glowing green CRT screens. Good times. I enjoyed it because it was fraught with potential. The possibilities seemed endless.

What is your favourite programming language?
Currently, Objective-C. I really liked Motorola 68K assembly though. And the Core Image kernel language is pretty amazing, particularly when hooked up in Quartz Composer.

Do you believe in giving back code to the society to help aid development?
Sometimes. It's not something we've been focused on so far, though.

Do you have any GitHub repositories or OpenSource or code repos?

What do you do other than Development?
I spend time with my family. We have two boys, and it's a lot of fun. And I play jazz piano.

What is your method of commute? (Bike, Train, Car, Walk)
We're in Portland, the best commuter town in the United States. Of Avatron's ten full-time employees, one drives, four take public transportation (train and bus), two ride bikes, two walk, and one works remotely at home.

So what is next in the pipeline for Avatron?
New apps and new features. Sorry, all that time at Apple has inculcated into me a religious avoidance of pre-announcing future releases. But I can say that I'm as excited about the things we'll be delivering in the next few months as I am about what we've done so far.

What advice would you give to other developers out there?
Send us your resume!

Would you want to provide your contact details if any one would want to get in touch with Avatron?
Sure. I'm @dshowell on Twitter. Avatron is, perhaps unsurprisingly, @avatron.

Thank you for your time, we appreciate your participation
Thank you!

If you have any questions or comments for Dave Howell, you could add them into the comments and we could get Dave to have a look and answer them, if you so wish, you can also follow him and Avatron on Twitter or even send your resume to him.