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App Developer Diary Part 6: The 48 Hour App

Taking you behind-the-scenes of a real iPhone app’s development, in this installment I attempt to make my own iPhone app in one weekend and learn from Ustwo about how to take an idea to the App Store in just 48 hours.


It’s been a few weeks since my last entry in the App Developer Diary. Markus, the coder based here in Helsinki, has been busy. This week he unveiled a playable prototype of our app, allowing me to test and refine the main game mechanic.

In the meantime, Matias coded up a cute little mini-game over the course of one weekend. While he worked on the programming, I created the sound, music and artwork (above). In one weekend we created a really great little game, almost ready to be released in the App Store.

We’re not the only developers who have been working on these quick-fire app concepts. Mobile development studio Ustwo also took an idea from hasty scribble to the App Store in just 48 hours. It’s encouraging to see that their first 48 hour app, simply titled .™, is now selling as a 99 cent download.

Have You Seen the Dot?

We didn’t do much planning for our own 48 hour app. Matias came up with an idea — a button-tapping game with a bizarre musical twist — and built it. Ustwo, being a little more strategic, managed to sketch out a few concepts before coding up their app.


Ustwo founder Mills sat down with his iPhone development team and threw together a development plan. Their app would be cool, simple and addictive. Most importantly though, it would stake a claim in the App Store, showcasing their ability to think fast and be creative under pressure.

Mills laid down a fundamental ground rule too: the scope of the project would go no further than two days. The app would be submitted to Apple on hour 48 of development.

Just the Basics

Stepping up to the challenge, the Ustwo team produced three simple sketches. Their hastily drawn plan outlined the game’s control system, look and feel, and gameplay mechanic.


The sketches only cover the essentials, but that’s really all that the team needed to get coding. The first image covers the game’s accelerometer-based control method, and main character — a dot — alongside succinctly stating that the app will have a, “minimal aesthetic.”


The second sketch contains an ultra-refined executive summary of the game: control dot to select smaller dots. The gameplay mechanic is revealed in the third sketch. Your dot is shrinking, he needs to eat dots to stay alive, triangles will kill him.


In just three images we’ve got a clear idea of how a typical game will play out. You’ll be tilting and twisting the iPhone, sliding a shrinking dot around the screen and trying to collect other dots while avoiding an onslaught of death-dealing triangles.

From Paper To Flash

After sketching out the game concept, the team took the concept to the computers. Their first step was to flesh out a quick playable prototype of the game concept using Flash. Focusing on look and feel, they tested a variety of different visual designs alongside taking a closer look at the controls too.

With the prototype working as expected and with the sketches for reference, the app was hastily coded up. After a quick round of QA — searching for bugs, design and gameplay issues — the team submitted the app for App Store approval. For Ustwo, the 48 hour app concept worked. It made development fun, it reduced costs and it challenged the coders and designers to think quickly and creatively.

It’s possible that we’ll be seeing more studios take on the 48 hour app challenge. Adobe recently announced that the forthcoming update of Flash, version CS5, will render files in the iTunes App Store format. This is a serious boon for Flash-based artists and designers everywhere, putting the tools for app development into the hands of even more creatives. In the case of Ustwo, they even created a fully-functional web version of .™, using Flash.

Our own 48 hour app still needs a few final tweaks before being submitted to the App Store. Ustwo’s successful 48 hour development, .™, is currently available from the App Store for 99 cents.

4 Responses to “App Developer Diary Part 6: The 48 Hour App”

  1. It’s interesting to see you use the App Store as a sort of Art School project tester. I dreaded the weekend “drawing projects” that needed to be turned in in some presentable form on Monday mornings, and yet, this is essentially what your 48-hour app is doing. I’m curious to know why you decided to do this? Was it just for fun; a kind of personal challenge; or perhaps part of some grander scheme that is yet to reveal itself to your readers.