The iPhone is the hottest platform around, leading some small-time developers to overnight riches and spawning over ten thousand apps in only a few months. But without knowledge of Objective-C or the intricacies of the iPhone SDK, many talented designers have no way of getting their wares onto the App Store. Today, Viximo has released a landmark new development platform called VixML that allows talented designers to create basic applications with a minimal amount of programming knowledge. The new development platform could easily turn into one of the most important tools for novice iPhone developers, and with the the tagline “this way to iPhone awesomeness”, it’s clear that Viximo has high expectations.
VixML is based on the XML markup language, which may still be intimidating enough to scare off some prospective designers but is nowhere near as complex as an actual programming language. Using a number of pre-designated tags, the VixML WYSIWYG SDK and emulator, designers can create rich, multimedia mini-apps in a matter of days that would have previously taken weeks or months of programing. Basic tags allow developers to make their applications sensitive to a number of common iPhone user inputs, including shaking, blowing into the microphone, swiping and tapping with fingers, and tilting the phone. The platform also includes support for an integrated 3D graphics engine for nifty particle effects.
Once you’ve developed your VixML project, there’s the matter of actually getting it onto the App Store. For now, all projects will be part of Viximo’s upcoming True Flirt application, which allows users to send these mini-apps to each other as virtual greetings. To send a “Flirt”, you’ll need the premium version of the app, which is $5.99. If the recipient of a flirt doesn’t have the app installed, they’ll be sent an SMS message inviting them to download a free version that allows them to view and interact with Flirts, but doesn’t allow them to send them.
Developers will be able to submit their projects to be included as part of the main True Flirt application, or as standalone ‘Flirt Packs’ that will be sold as separate apps. Ideally users would simply be able to buy these flirts through the main application instead of having to deal with separate Flirt Packs, but the App Store doesn’t currently support micro-transactions so we’re left with this inelegant solution. Still, for the time and money saved in development costs, the hassle may well be worth it for many designers.
However, there are a few major caveats. All projects designed in VixML must go through Viximo for deployment on the App Store, which means that you’ll need to go through two gatekeepers for approval (both Viximo and the standard Apple approval process), and you won’t be able to release yours apps outside of the True Flirt brand for some time. Viximo says that there will be a revenue sharing arrangement for each app that gets deployed, but is unwilling to discuss exactly how much will be going back to the developers. It sounds like this will be determined on a per-developer basis (and you’ll be told how much you’re getting once you’ve submitted an app), but the lack of even a ballpark figure is disconcerting (why build something when you have no idea how much you’re going to get paid?).
These issues aside, VixML seems like a powerful platform that could open up the iPhone to countless new developers, provided the developer restrictions aren’t too extreme. Granted, you won’t be able to build anything as complex as Tap Tap Revenge or Shazam, but the App Store has proven that even the most basic applications can do extremely well.