Wednesday, November 4, 2009

 

to infinity, and beyond!

I am pleased to report that my pet-project iPhone app, iTravelFree, has passed the stern inspection of Apple's App Store and is now available for download worldwide. For app links, a screenshot-laden tutorial, and help and FAQ files, see here: www.wetravelright.com.

(Yeah, crappy URL, I know, but all the good ones were taken.)

Since this is my tech blog let me wax about its architecture a bit. The iPhone app is pretty straightforward: basically, it's a bunch of TableViewControllers, many of which include WebViews, along with a MapViewController, all pointing to a bunch of CoreData records. Nothing extraordinarily fancy by any means.

The server side is more interesting: it's a Google App Engine service, written in Python, that fetches, caches, and parses Wikitravel pages for the app. This gives me a single point of access to the data flow, lets me do things like convert addresses to lat/long location, cuts down on bandwidth for both Wikitravel (thanks to the caching) and the phone app (thanks to the parsing and stripping out of extraneous info.)

The general architecture - phone app plus App Engine service - is actually really powerful and easy to work with. Basically, it's a distributed version of the classic Model-View-Controller architecture, where the phone is the view, the App Engine service is the controller, and whatever data you're accessing is the model. This lets you do all the heavy-lifting computation on the server side, which is where it belongs, and keep the phone (and its puny processor) focused almost purely on the UI.

I do have some reservations about the BigTable data store that App Engine uses, but they don't apply to projects like this, with relatively simple storage requirements and no data mining.

I wrote it in, hrmm, about six weeks all told, starting in July. (Obviously it's been much more than six weeks since then, but I had full-time work starting August so could only work on this in fits and spurts on the side.)

Anyway - the app is in pretty good shape, but there's more work to be done on the server side, so it's still basically in beta test. Take a look, download it, play around, and let me know what you think -

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