Paper, one of the best-looking new applications in the Apple App Store, is the brainchild of five ex-Microsoft design gurus.Many of those Microsoft designers worked on the Courier tablet, a double-screened pen-enabled tablet that Microsoft reportedly killed when it didn’t play nice with the Windows franchise.
Why did the Courier team leave Microsoft to start Paper? Was it a direct result of the Courier being shut down?
We spoke with Andrew Allen, the designer behind Paper, to find out. Here’s what we learned:
- It really isn’t a direct result of the Courier project being shut down. That happened two years ago. Most of the team simply met each other while on the Courier project.
- It’s already the top free app on the Apple App Store. That’s true for a lot of foreign countries, too. Paper is seeing some crazy adoption and it blew away FiftyThree’s expectations.
- Paper is not exactly a productivity app or a casual app — it’s a little of both. Paper wants to be the “napkin” or “post-it note” of the iPad where you jot down notes to form ideas.
Here’s the full lightly-edited interview:BUSINESS INSIDER: How did it all come together?
Andrew Allen: There are five of us. We all kind of consider ourselves craftsmen, we make things with our hands. I’m a filmmaker, interaction designer, another is an industrial designer, another is an engineer and code developer. We have this “making” background, we’re people who like to build things and get them out there in front of people.
We came together about 9 months ago, in May or June last year, and just had this idea not for an app, but for “space.” We have all these great productivity tools — things that help you execute something. When you have an idea, you can use PowerPoint or Photoshop to execute that idea. We don’t have these powerful tools yet that help you think through an idea. If you don’t know what the idea is yet, and you’re capturing your thoughts, where do you go: post-it notes, napkins or loose leaf paper. It’s really simple, it’s open, you jot your idea down.
We had this vision for a product that had that same sort of openness. You wouldn’t have to think about the user interface. You just jump in and capture the idea, and because it’s digital you can store it all in one place and share it out over twitter and email. You open it up right after you wake up and jot down your dream or you sketch out an idea.
BI: Where did you guys come from?
AA: We’re all kind of playing a couple roles, I’m sort of chief experience officer, I designed and built everything you see in paper. I’m also handling the video we put out there and handling a lot of the marketing. My background is in design and filmmaking.
All five of us have worked at Microsoft at one point or another. There were three of us that worked on the Microsoft Courier project. One worked at Xbox, he did all the Xbox accessories — controller, Kinect, he kitted up those hardware programs. Our software developer, he’s super talented — he joined Microsoft through an acquisition and he was working in Live labs and Bing mobile and Bing maps.
BI: How did the startup get off the ground?
AA: We started building it in June, it took that long to build this thing. We’ve been bootstrapping it, living the old fashioned way and building the app as we saw it. For myself, it was the first time I’ve ever designed or conceived anything for the iPhone operating system (iOS). It’s the first time our developer has ever built anything for iOS. There’s a lot that went into it — we had to build a lot of new technology. We have this new ink technology called the Expressive Ink Engine. We wanted to take away those unnecessary settings that drawing apps give you and build it into a tool that understands how you’re using it and moving it.
BI: How did the launch go?
AA: Things are going great, much better than even our most optimistic projections. The best indicator, we’re the number one free iPad app in a lot of countries. If you look at the other ones on the list, you look at Draw Something, Modern War, there are some popular games. It’s nice to see a useful creativity app for us in the top apps. It’s something useful for the iPad.
We submitted it to the App Store about a week before it went live.
BI: So you’d consider it a productivity app or a casual app?
AA: It’s a little bit in the middle of a productivity and casual app. I think it’s useful, we’re seeing all sorts of things being shared online: people diagramming user interface designs, sketching out an idea for a backyard garden. It’s hard to bucket it, there are so many people that are expressing themselves on it. We’re not trying to compete with more feature-rich drawing applications out there. You can download Sketchbook Pro — there are very feature rich drawing applications if you want to draw something with super fine detail and fine-tune your brushes. We’re the app where you want to capture something and get it down, we’re the place.
BI: You guys make money by selling brushes. Has that always been the plan?
It’s something we’ve always planned. I see a lot of apps out there that people spend a lot of time developing and then they abandon them. They help support it for a little bit but there’s not a very good model for updating. That’s an old model. We want to keep updating.
There’s so many developers out there, you’re dis-incentivized to build rich applications. We want to build something that will last, and the brushes you can buy help incentivized that. We wanted to make it free because I think fundamentally you should be able to try something before you have to buy it. You go into the Apple Store, you can try the iPad and the iPhone. We want to get it into their hands. You can buy everything for 8 bucks — it’s less than a Moleskine.
BI: What was it about Microsoft that made it difficult to build something like this — that made you start something new?
AA: Paper isn’t really a direct reaction to the Courier being canceled. Courier’s been canceled for almost two years now. It happened, it got canceled. We still saw a need there, a need for that space. A need for something like Paper. There’s nothing there for that. There are no tools that satisfy that yet. And we still had our passion around creating things, and it came together as a team.
Microsoft does have some cool things happening, but they have a certain way of doing things, I guess. They have a lot of interesting technology. I can tell you that there are a lot of talented designers at Microsoft.