The Thick Of It iPhone app, Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone, went on sale this afternoon and during the hullabalo of Twitter going mad for it, we caught up with Dave Addey, MD of Agant the co-creators of the app. He told us about the secrets of Malcolm Tucker’s iPhone, how he managed to get Apple to OK all that swearing and gave us the lowdown on the official QI app and Harry Hill‘s Jokebook iPhone app both of which were also released this week. Read on for our interview about the ****ing Thick Of It iPhone app…

How long did the app take to develop?
We started mid-summer, so we’ve been on it for about four or five months from when we first pitched the Malcolm’s iPhone concept. They loved the idea of all the extra stuff you can do from SMS to voice mails and onwards.

Did you feel like you were pushing things to a new level?
We have not seen anyone else make an app like this. We really tried out a lot of new ideas but it was a bit of a risk and we were dependent on it getting through the App Store approval process. We were careful to read the iTunes App Store guidelines in great detail when they were published and we had a back up plan for pretty much everything but the language. It would be hard to do an app for The Thick Of It if we weren’t able to use the ‘fruity’ language. Full credit to Apple, it has been really receptive to things.

Being from Faber Digital and working with a BBC show must help when you’re working with Apple, surely?
Well yes but we did have to make some changes. The app was initially called Malcolm Tucker’s iPhone and quite rightly Apple said that could be misconstrued. We then chose to change the name to Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone which actually we now prefer. We see it as a seperate Thick Of It story in its own right.

Is the Thick of It iPhone app considered to be part of the Thick of It canon?
Yes and no. It is inspired by the Faber And Faber book The Missing DOSAC Files which is in itself part of the canon. That book talks about Malcolm losing some files and our question was: what would happen he lost his phone? Basically, all the content in the book fits with our conceit. The emails and guides from the book become elements in the app. Everything translates really nicely. It’s very coherent. If you buy the book and get the app they work well together and they work well apart. If it hadn’t worked as a story and identity in its own right, it wouldn’t have been worth doing. We were able to create all this extra audio content for the voice mails.

Did the writers enjoy having more tools at their fingertips?
They were really receptive to the medium of the phone. The kind of things that work for a TV don’t work for a book. It featured new material and the phone is the same – it’s been written specifically for use as an iPhone app.

It’s almost like one of those old Christmas TV show annuals remade for the modern age isn’t it?
The book reminds me of a Goodies book I had back in the day. The app all makes sense as if you’ve found a window into Malcolm’s world.

Will the app be updated?
Updates depend on popularity but it looks like they’ll happen. In this version, there’s a Twitter follower in the app. Right now it shows Glen’s Twitter account but with that we can add additional characters and we will do when the new series starts. We deliberately left the app open ended so we could build on it in future versions. If new content lends itself to the app’s design, we’ll do it.

You get a real flurry of notifications when you first open the app. How long does that last?
We wanted it to feel like you were an innocent observer of this storm. If someone like Malcolm lost his phone, it would be devestating for the government. We deliberately put that flurry of content at the start to give you the feeling that it’s really happening. That’s why you get blissfully ignorant emails from Nichola Murray, that’s a deliberate in joke for fans of the show – of course she’d be a couple of hours behind everyone else.

The sense of experiencing the story in real time is interesting, how hard is that to achieve?
A lot of time in development was spent making sure we could tell a story in real time. It is in your personal time line, we’re not broadcasting this to everyone, it is timed to play out for you from when you first open the app. It’s quite a challenge to achieve that. We had a story consultant working on just the timing of the app. We had a couple of odd sessions with post-it notes all over the wall covered in swear words! The story plays out over three days and we had to run that and make sure it worked.

Was the goal to create something of lasting value?
The Thick Of It has really passionate fans and is really well written. We couldn’t just release a cheap cash-in. We would rather do fewer apps and catch people’s attention rather than push out lots. If you take the time to make an app with the full storyline, people really respond to it.

The price is quite high for an iPhone app, do you feel the content justifies that?
It’s £3.99 but you get the full content of the book that is £12.99 and you get custom audio written specifically for the Thick Of It app.

What was the working process between the developers and The Thick Of It writers?
We worked with both Faber Digital and the Thick Of It writers. We started off pitching the idea of the phone and then made suggestions and they really ran with that. That’s what they do. They took those concepts and came up with a few we had never thought of. In the same way that they work collaboratively on the show, we did that with the app. Because they got the concept, pretty much everything they wrote is in the app.

Anything you wanted to add to the app that didn’t make it?
Nothing got left out really but we did discuss a longer story arc but at the same time, the excitement of receiving emails and messages only lasts so long. We didn’t want the Thick of It app to end up annoying people and disrupting the everyday use of their iPhones!

Why only iPhone and no Android? Are their issues with making an app for Android?
Lots of people on Twitter have been asking for a Thick Of It app on Android. Some people have said they’d buy an iPhone to get hold of this app. If apps like this only come to iPhone then it is a compelling reason to choose one phone over the other. For us it’s down to two reasons: we’re selling the app and people are more likely, in our experience, to buy on iOS than Android. Apple has made it simple and easy. The Android Market has a pain threshold and customers who expect apps to be free. The Market does not have a nice process to buy apps. The second reason is that some things we wanted to do with notifications from the app and the way we bring new content in was only possible on iOS.

So could there still be an Android Thick Of It app?
We’ll do it if we feel we can do as good a job of it and if it looks like we can make money there. Developing for Android is effectively starting from scratch. It does have to be worth our while.

Does Android need to work harder for developers?
It’s been a good day for us on the iTunes App Store. Google is good at supporting developers and offering resources. The Android development community is strong but it’s the numbers that’ll change things. There are so many Android phones out there but it is so tricky. If you want to deliver apps that are as good as they can be on every device, it’s a lot easier to do that on iOS.

How concerned are you about fragmentation? Does iPhone just deliver more people who will buy your apps?
It depends on what your app wants to achieve. If it will work on low-end devices well, Android is more appealing because fragmentation is not an issue. If you’re trying to do things that require better or more consistent hardware, iOS is a lot easier to deal with.

What phone do you use?
I’m an iPhone 4 user. I strongly believe if you’re going to develop for it, you need to use it every day. The same goes for Android. Every now and then I’ll spend a few weeks using that to remind myself of the experience.

Wouldn’t Malcolm use a Blackberry?
He does use the iPhone in the Bournemouth conference episode of the series. Generally he is a Blackberry user but iOS is just a better platform to develop for than Blackberry.

…and didn’t Malcolm use Find My iPhone?
One of the things mentioned in the app is an app that Malcolm has that shows the location of every MP in the UK. We very nearly included that but decided it might be a step too far.

What else have you got coming out soon?
We’ve put together the Harry Hill Jokebook app. It contains 986 jokes, all of them recorded by Harry. There’s hand drawn illustrations, we’ve given you your own box of sound effects, a drum kit with rim shots and that kind of thing. You can use it as a joke telling machine. That is on the App Store as of yesterday afternoon.

The other app we’re launching today is the QI app. It’s based on the bestselling QI books. All of the books so far have been combined in the app and been broken down into 58 mini-books. Each book is a 10 to 15 minute reader which is perfect for the commute or when there’s nothing on the telly. You can also send your own facts in to QI along with picture evidence and you can rate people’s facts on the Interesting-o-meter which runs from Not At All to Quite!

The Thick Of It app, Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone is out now for £3.99.
The QI app is out now for £4.99 on iPhone and iPad
Harry Hill’s Joke Book is also out now for £2.99

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