When French student Axel Peju wanted to use his Mac to track his finances and manage a budget, he couldn’t find an application to meet his needs, so he created his own. He developed Squirrel, a personal finance program for the Mac (and soon, the iPhone). It’s full of features to help you save and spend your money wisely, and won a design award at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference this summer for Best Student App.
As part of a series of posts that take a look at the where the 2008 WWDC winners are now, I caught up with Perju recently to ask him what it was like to receive the award, how he ended up at the conference, and what the future holds for the Squirrel project. Here’s what he had to say.
TAB: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came up with the idea to create Squirrel.
AP: I’m a student air traffic controller in France, and I’m developing Squirrel in my spare time — and I have quite a lot of time ;). Squirrel’s development started two years ago, when I started to care about my finances. I needed an accounting application for my Mac and I found that existing solutions were too complex, too expensive, or they didn’t look like real Mac applications. So, I looked at Apple’s documentation for development on the Mac and I started coding what would later become Squirrel.
I quickly decided to release the application, first for free and then for a low price. My idea was to get enough feedback from Squirrel’s users, be able to earn some money to buy a new Mac (I was coding on a 1.6 GHz Powerbook), and, if possible, to buy a ticket for the WWDC. When Leopard was released, I was very excited about its new technologies and I quickly realized I could make amazing things with Core Animation. A few months later, I submitted Squirrel to the Apple Design Awards.
TAB: How did winning Best Student Product benefit you as well as your project?
AP: It was a real achievement to see Squirrel win the Apple Design Awards, and in the same time it just opened new horizons to its development. Lots of users have sent me their reports, feedbacks, and requests, so I’ve been able to fine tune existing features and work on new ones. I’ve got tons of projects for Squirrel and other apps, and now I also have all I need to make it.
TAB: When do you expect to release 1.0?
AP: There are still some features to be implemented before Squirrel can be considered as a complete personal finance application, even if it is fully usable now. It includes MobileMe syncing, a better importer with smart import rules, an export feature, and additional localizations. I think Squirrel 1.0 should be ready by this summer.
TAB: Why do you prefer developing for the Mac over Windows or Linux?
AP: Actually I’ve never developed on any other platforms than the Mac, and that’s maybe why the Mac is such a great platform. Anyone can download Xcode and start developing. There are a tons of technologies that just make coding very easy. Squirrel relies on Core Data to manage its data and Core Animation to animate graphs and charts. Apple offers a very good set of development tools so you just need inspiration and motivation to get something working. I think the Mac delivers the best user experience for both users and developers, and that’s why we love coding on this platform.
TAB: How did you end up attending WWDC? What was the biggest thing you learned there?
AP: Apple phoned me one week before the WWDC to know if I would come [but since] I couldn’t afford the trip, they just invited me! That week was a great moment, with so many sessions I couldn’t choose which one to go to. The most exciting thing I learned about was Snow Leopard and its new set of technologies that will make our macs very powerful computers. Many developers are very excited about using multiple cores more effectively and GPUs. The iPhone is also very interesting and I’m really happy we can now develop on it as well.
TAB: Any plans for an iPhone App?
AP: Yes, and it will come very soon! I’ve been working on it since this summer and I think that will allow Squirrel to really make the difference. The idea is to have all your transactions in your pocket, add new ones on the fly when you have a minute or two, then sync with your Mac over the Wi-Fi network. It will also feature the same history graph and you’ll be able to check your budgets before making a new purchase. I will hopefully have something ready to show at the Macworld expo!