To make a dream a reality, it's all about ideas, visions and emotions. 'Grillmeister' is the result of one such dream. Smoke, fire and sizzling steaks - Till loves a good barbecue. As a passionate Grill-meister, he simply had to have a barbecue for his iPhone. But making a dream come true isn't always as easy as it sounds - especially when your Barbecue is made in Munich and you have to meet the high standards of fussy German engineers.
The idea: what Grillmeister should be about
The idea was simple: the app should basically turn your iPhone into a barbecue. But with each new build and iteration, Till and the team added new ideas and details to the app, building on the original idea. The final version of 'Grillmeister' gives you the full experience of grilling in your backyard on the iPhone.The team discussed the app extensively. In the end we decided that we had to capture the true character of a grill. It should be a real, genuine experience - like you are actually standing in front of a grill. The iPhone should be a grill, no more and no less. No 3D or extra effects - a pure and simple grill in every respect.
First real world experience: extreme grilling
To be honest, we don't really know exactly how much meat we cooked (and of course ate) during the whole development (talk about a high protein diet!). To start off, Till and the Art Director prepared 10 different cuts of meat, to inspire their minds - and their stomachs.
The good news: the first steps had been taken.
The bad news: the weather in Bavaria was really bad, to the point where summer felt like it had been replaced by an unpredictable monsoon season.
The right 'flow' - how does it really feel to grill on an iPhone?
The user interface and the flow of an application - the whole user experience - is Till's passion. He'll even turn features inside out and tear apart the app in the late stages of a project, if it doesn't feel right. If he's not convinced the flow works, it's back to the drawing board we go.
To avoid dead-ends and to keep track of the big picture, we made extensive use of scribbled notes, sketches and storyboards. So how many revisions did we put together? Leading up to the final release, our development team created exactly 434 software builds.
Nitty gritty details
To serve up the most realistic grilling experience possible, we focused on quite a few unique iPhone features housed in the iPhone Developer Kit: to pour charcoal into the barbecue, it's all about the motion sensor, to light the match and change tablecloths, the swipe was indespensable and to flip the steaks, the double tap saved the day. Unfortunately there's no way to simulate the smell - yet ;-). Not only will you be able to see the marks left on the grill by each of your creations, you'll even hear the sizzle when the meat hits the grill - try it!
Finding the right icon
The first thing you notice about any iPhone app is its icon. We always focus lots of attention on the icon - no matter if it's for an iPhone app or one of our Mac software titles. The icon should tell a story. The telling of that story is the art of creating the perfect icon. We opted in favor of an icon that explains what the whole app is about - and in this case, 'Grillmeister' is all about the grill. Here's a collection of our icon ideas that didn't make the cut:
Scrum - a better way to make iPhone apps
The development team at equinux uses an agile development method known as 'scrum' to plan, build and develop applications. Once a day, the team gets together with the 'vision owner' (for this project, Till) to plan new features, discuss details and see how things are coming along. Issues and new features are added to the scrum backlog and assigned to individual members of the team. If we come up with a new idea or feature, it's tried, discarded and improved on, until we're convinced we've nailed it.
Getting to the meat of things
With Grillmeister, we really wanted to raise the bar for iPhone app quality: We didn't just want great code, we wanted great-looking steaks as well. So we invited a professional chef, Frank Heppner, to the equinux campus. He has his own culinary school, several cookbooks and experience in food photography, so we were hoping to make this the tastiest equinux project ever.
In Grillmeister, you can watch your food as it's being grilled with each flip. To achieve this, we needed to photograph the front and back of every steak at exactly the right moment. We spent hours preparing steaks, cooking them just the right amount, taking photos and then repeating the entire process.
To make sure our steaks look as great on your iPhone as they did on our plates, we hired the award-winning commercial photographer Felix Holzer. Felix had the challenge of taking great shots of all the steaks being grilled, whilst also making sure each steak we used looked like the others in the photograph. Our photographer worked with a Hasselblad H-System. The RAW images he took were about 100 MB each. We completely filled a 160 GB external hard drive and spent 10 days going through, editing and prepping the photo-material.
Some more stats...
During the whole production we fired up 65 pounds of charcoal and cooked over $700 worth of meat. You couldn't help but notice the lone tear falling from the chef's eye each time he totally burnt those T-Bone steaks - we too couldn't help but to break down and cry.
Keep in mind that the weather hadn't changed and we spent 2 full days barbecuing indoors. Even with all the windows open, you can't even imagine the smell in our building. It took just over a week to go through and edit all the pictures and almost twice as long to get the smell of burnt steaks out of the office. The three grills we used indoors (despite all the warning labels), included: a Weber Kettle grill, a large outdoor steel barbecue and of course a little travel barbecue as well. We went through countless grill grates until we found one that delivered "the perfect sear."
Hear the heat
No barbecue is complete without the sizzle and crackle of the flames and food. In Barbecue the sound effects had to be as good as the images and animations to really complete the immersive experience. After all - in any movie or television show the audio is what will make you laugh, cry or cringe in terror. That's when we stumbled across Philipp Sellier, a sound designer who had previously worked on movies such as the oscar award-winning german film "Das Leben der Anderen" known internationally as "The Lives of Others." He set up a barbecue in his studio and captured every sizzle, pop and crackle in fantastic quality. He also recorded ambient noise and a terrific guitar jingle to round out the atmosphere.
The audio has been mixed and optimized for your iPhone's speaker, but just wait until you've listened to your steak sizzling in your headphones...
Getting more out of the latest devices
The biggest challenge when using such high-resolution graphics and renderings is making the user experience on the original iPhone as fun as it is on the 3GS. Barbecue makes extensive use of alpha channels and layers for the charcoal, grates and meat. We even include twelve different stages of cooking, from barely seared to completely charred. The graphics processor on older iPhones and the iPod touch isn't nearly as powerful as the new 3GS. Nevertheless, our developers took our smokin' 3GS model and refined and optimized Barbecue so all iPhone and iPod touch users can have a great grilling experience.
Even more details
After testing the first prototype of the application, we realized that flipping a steak looked a bit like you were flipping a pancake. It took us quite a few tries until we found the right algorithm to match the physics of flipping a steak. We also noticed that it was important that a steak should have differing sear marks on either side. Steaks can be grilled longer on one side than the other. So we made sure that each side can look different both sides and separated each into different stages. We found out that we need between 10 and 12 different stages to take our users' steaks and goodies from barely seared to ultra-charred.
Serving your dish
What do you do when your steak is finished? Serve it on a platter with your own special touch. Find the right design for the tablecloth without the need for a trip to the local IKEA: In Germany the blue Bavarian flag style is very common but we also wanted to have something modern and something American... just swipe from one to the next and listen to the whoosh! By the way, the sound engineer did a really great job!
Extensive testing sessions
Before any iPhone app enters the market, testing and feedback is imperative. We had a couple of testing sessions with our developers, select internal staff, and a few people from outside equinux who were not very familiar with grilling and in some cases not very familiar with the iPhone itself. Before the app was submitted to Apple, there were several decisions made to refine the feel of the app making it easier and more intuitive for all.
Barbecue central: equinux campus in Munich
While you check out the fruits of all our labor and enjoy the results of all those barbecues, our team at the equinux campus in Munich and our office in South San Francisco are busy working on something new and something different. We hope you've enjoyed our look behind-the-scenes and have as much fun with Barbecue as we've had making it!