Today we have finally released Watchlater for iPad! Watchlater transfers the idea of Instapaper to video. The app lets you watch video bookmarks anywhere and anytime. To accomplish this we have created a caching function which supports most video platforms. Videos are also automatically converted into an iPad ready format. The app comes with 300 ‘caching’ minutes, and users can add more minutes through in App purchase.
Check out the Watchlater website to get more info about features and scope.
In this post, we’d like to shed some light on the process of creating Watchlater and some of the pain we had. After all, creating software is not always a one way road.
The idea of Watchlater came already in the summer of last year and we were quick to implement the first version of the app. The first app submission was in September 2010, and it took Apple a blasting 55 days to get back to us just to tell that the app was rejected due to shortcomings such as a missing icon and some random app crashes. This submission, however, was critical to see that Apple had no problem with the idea of caching online videos. You never know.
Consequently, we continued development. We rewrote the app entirely from scratch, acknowledging that our first attempt was simply not good enough.
We then made a technical mistake by rewriting the backend with Node.js. Using Node at this point was far to early (v0.2) – the bulletproof Rails tool chain was missing, hence slowing down the development process. Don’t get us wrong – we think Node is awesome! It was just a bad idea to use it for the whole backend. Instead, the video processing and transcoding layer provided by our partner Filsh was implemented entirely with a Node.js and Redis stack. With over 40 servers clustered together, this might be one of the largest Node installations so far.
When we submitted the second version we had to again deal with a slow and unresponsive Apple process. Our company changed its legal form, and we wanted to change that in our development account. Apparently, there is no way to make such a change. Instead, Apple advised us to create a new account and undergo the enrollment process again. If this wasn’t painful enough, we lost the “Watchlater” name for the app, which is still taken up by our old account. Up to this point nobody at Apple has provided us with a valid solution for this problem.
Even though these backslashes were good enough reasons to get us down, we did not. We received lots of encouraging feedback. People loved the idea and pushed us to keep on moving. And then there were the good news. HackFwd invested in Watchlater. We took this outside investment not because we needed cash. 9elements is doing well, so we were perfectly fine with bootstrapping our ideas. It was because we were looking for a partner who can boost the product with their experience and network. We had several options, but HackFwd made us feel right at home by sharing the same enthusiasm for technologies and building stuff. So we found a perfect match.
Apple finally approved the app, but we decided to stay under the radar until all major milestones were completed. It also helped us to add over a thousand users, get their feedback and take some time for essential improvements on the app. It also gave us the opportunity to iterate over the UI and the overall user experience. All users who bought the app up to this point received additional 300 free caching minutes. The app is now out in the open, and we believe it brings the kind of uniqueness and usefulness that users will find it and love it. And we are already working on bringing even more of that in the upcoming updates!
Finally, thanks to all our beta testers and supporters. We truly appreciate all your feedback and ideas.
Our beta testers and contributors: